SACRAMENTO — The state could be in the Internet poker business next year, if a petition drive catches on.

A proposed initiative to create a state-owned Internet poker game drew attention Tuesday from the existing gambling community — including Indian casino tribes — and support from independent experts.

"It's silly for the state not to get into the business," said I. Nelson Rose, a professor and attorney at Whittier Law School in Costa Mesa. "Billions of dollars are being spent on the game here, and the state isn't getting one penny."

California is the world's online poker capital, analysts said. The government is missing out by not legalizing, regulating and taxing it.

Rose, a nationally known gambling expert, said that "ultimately California is going to legalize Internet poker," but said he is uncertain whether the newproposed initiative is the vehicle.

The proposal would allow Indian casinos and other gambling establishments to set up revenue-sharing deals, which would serve as an incentive to wealthy tribes to gather voter signatures needed to put the measure on the February ballot.

Initiative supporters must collect about 430,000 signatures by the end of the year to qualify the measure for the ballot.

"We will take a look at the initiative and discuss it," said Garry South, a consultant to the California Tribal Business Alliance, made up of some of the tribes who own the largest casinos.

Even card rooms — who want to attract more players — have expressed interest.

Aides to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who negotiates gambling compacts with tribes, declined comment.

The proposed initiative would order the state to establish a state-owned Internet poker site within 150 days of the proposal's adoption, lay out game rules, and restrict players to being at least

21 years old.

The measure says "the state may enter into revenue and player base sharing agreements with other states, localities and California federally recognized Indian tribes."

Howard Dickstein, an attorney representing several casino-operating tribes not part of the tribal alliance, was skeptical. An operation such as the one outlined by the initiative would be "an extremely ambitious and complex project," he said.

Dickstein and other experts foresee possible court battles among gambling stakeholders. Federal law also is fuzzy on the issue of state-run Internet poker sites.

Anthony "Tuff Fish" Sandstrom, a maverick online gambling enthusiast who authored the measure, said he included what he hopes will be a further incentive for passage — a relatively small stream of money from "net revenues" to cities and counties to fix local roads.