Nevada Democrat is a key figure in legalising online poker in the United States
Contradictory views on where the influential Nevada Senator Harry Reid stands on internet gambling have abounded in recent months , but this week the Wall Street Journal reports the encouraging news that the veteran Democrat appears to be supporting legalised online poker at the very least.
The respected business journal claims that staffers for Reid, who is the Senate Majority Leader in Congress, are circulating a bill to legalise poker playing on the Internet….and that the proposal is backed by major US land casino interests.
"The Nevada casino companies pushing the measure were among the Democrat's biggest donors during his fierce re-election fight," the WSJ claims. "They argue the bill would provide consumer protection for poker players and would provide some tax revenue for federal and state governments."
Apparently the Reid initiative elicited an almost immediate and negative Republican reaction, with three Representatives headed by arch-online gambling opponent Spencer Bachus of Alabama writing to Senator Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell opposing any attempt to push internet gambling legalization through Congress in the limited time that remains for the 2010 Congress – the so-called "lame duck" window as Congress winds down for the year.
Bachus is the ranking Republican member of the House Finanacial Services Committee.
Approached by the Wall Street Journal for comment, a spokesman for Senator Reid declined to make a statement. The Senator is known for playing his cards close to his chest, and in the past has opposed online gambling. However, WSJ sources say that Reid now favours legalising internet poker and could be planning on attaching his proposal to another and not necessarily related bill in order to get it through the current Congress…a stratagem used to pass the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act back in October 2006.
Despite the lack of official comment, the Wall Street Journal has obtained access to a draft of the new Reid proposal, which it reports carries language that would allow only existing casinos, horse tracks and slot-machine makers to operate online poker websites for the first two years after the bill passes, which could limit the ability of other companies to enter the market or compete in the United States market.
There is also apparently provision to outsource oversight to individual state regulators, another move supported by existing land casinos that do not want to see the federal government become overly involved in regulating the industry. Tax would go to both state and federal governments.
One land casino spokesman, Alan Feldman of MGM Resorts International, voiced the hope that a bill such as that reported could be rushed through in the last remaining weeks of Congress, noting that "….a lot of things happen in this kind of time frame."
In a similar report, the Bloomberg news agency says that the letter to Reid from Bachus and two other Republican Representatives objects to "a secretive, closed-door, undemocratic” effort in the Senate to pass legalization that would legalise and tax some Internet gambling before Congress adjourns this year.
Bloomberg identifies Bachus's supporters as Representatives Dave Camp (Michigan) and Lamar Smith (Texas), both likely to be committee chairmen with oversight of online gambling when Republicans take control of the House in January. The trio said they have learned that the Senate may attach a measure to “must-pass” legalization during the current lame-duck session.
“Creating a federal right to gamble that has never existed in our country’s history and imposing an unprecedented new tax regime on such activity requires careful deliberation, not back- room deals,” the lawmakers said in their December 1 letter to Reid and his Republican counterpart, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.
“We also are concerned that this new rush to embrace Internet casino gambling might be partially motivated by one of the gravest sins that afflicts this Congress: desperation for more tax dollars to pay for ever-increasing federal spending,” the lawmakers said in the letter.
The House Financial Services Committee has already passed Congressman Barney Frank's extensively amended proposal to legalise online gambling, although the bill has not thus far progressed any further.
Bloomberg reports that following the Republican victory in the House of Representatives mid term elections, Bachus, Camp and Smith are in line to be chairmen of the Financial Services Committee, the Ways and Means Committee and the Judiciary Committee, respectively. Each panel would have some jurisdiction over the measure.