Tuesday September 11, 2012 : HOPES FADE FOR A FEDERAL SOLUTION U.S. ONLINE POKER
Senator Heller causes waves with recommendation that Reid-Kyl bill should go through House of Representatives
The much-discussed possibility for federal legalization of online poker via a Senate bill drawn up by Democrat Senator Harry Reid and Republican Senator Jon Kyl appeared to fade this week as news broke that a key mover in the initiative, Republican Senator Dean Heller of Nevada, had broken ranks.
Reports in US media Monday indicated that Heller, who had been asked to muster enough Republicans to help carry the initiative forward in the Senate, had written to Reid suggesting that "…it would be beneficial for the House of Representatives to first address this issue."
The Las Vegas Sun newspaper described the change as "potentially devastating", reporting that Democrats felt that Heller had "dropped the ball'.
Certainly a statement issued by Reid spokesperson Kristen Orthman suggested displeasure in her office:
"Several months ago Sen. Reid asked Sen. Heller to secure Republican votes to help pass an Internet poker bill and to date, Sen. Heller has not been able to secure any support," she said.
"Rather than standing to fight for this important issue for Nevada, Sen. Heller has decided to run for cover and attempt to lay blame on others."
Apparently Heller and Kyl have spoken to around half the Republicans in the Senate, presumably without garnering as much support as was hoped for.
In a reference to a deadline set this week by Reid for the Republicans to come forward, Heller noted:
"With over a dozen states already taking steps to legalize and expand Internet gambling, I recognize that we must act quickly. I am concerned with attempts to impose a deadline on a Friday afternoon during recess, providing little if any time to reconfirm the necessary support among my conference."
Lobbyists have commented that the Kyl-Reid initiative appears to have gone "awry" with the suggestion that the action be moved to the House, describing such a move as making no sense, bearing in mind the strong opposition that may be encountered, and pointing to the lack of progress by Rep. Joe Barton's legalization attempt.
They also draw attention to the strongly worded anti-online gambling clause in the current manifesto published recently by the Republican Party.
Heller's letter also urges Reid to do more in the Senate to address what he refers to as the "root" of the legalization problem – the policy change by the Department of Justice last December which admitted that the Wire Act applies only to sports betting. "If you think for some strategic reasoning that something should originate in the Senate," Heller wrote to Reid, "then it should address the root of the issue that is plaguing our gaming industry in Nevada, namely the Wire Act."
"UIGEA neither legalized nor made unlawful Internet gambling," Heller wrote.
His spokesman, Stewart Bybee expanded on that, saying: "The core of the problem is the Department of Justice's interpretation of the Wire Act. Sen. Heller's focus is to pass a piece of legalization that fixes the Wire Act and also brings a component for regulating online poker."
Politicians fear that the Justice Department's about-face on the Wire Act opened the door to internet gambling and encouraged US states to independently start moving toward legalization, frustrated with the lack of leadership from Congress – Nevada itself is well advanced in legalising online poker on an intrastate basis, and sixteen other states are seriously considering online gambling in one form or another.
Reid has now been trying unsuccessfully to have online poker legalised for over two years, and the Reid -Kyl collaboration was seen by many as the best hope for a federal solution, but time is again running out even for the lame duck session of the current Congress, and the latest political machinations will do little to encourage optimism.
For his part, Reid intends to soldier on, according to his spokesperson, who says: "Sen. Reid is not going to abandon the fight, and will continue to seek bipartisan support to legalize online poker that is important to Nevada."