Politico reports that Sen. Harry Reid screwed up a chance to legalize online poker, though I’m not really crazy about the way it was going to be done. He did manage to get some Republicans on board but then apparently bungled the opportunity to get the package through the Senate (whether it would have passed the House is another question).
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid had promised Nevada’s gambling industry a federal law to legalize Internet poker by the end of 2012, calling it the state’s “most important issue” since the nuclear waste dump at Yucca Mountain was scuttled.
But in the end, Reid rolled snake eyes. And as the 113th Congress gets under way, the odds of legislation passing are even worse.
Now, questions are mounting over Reid’s handling of the issue, which would legalize Internet poker but bar almost all other online wagering. Why, critics ask, did Reid antagonize Republicans at a critical juncture by attacking the efforts of his Senate colleague Dean Heller to garner GOP support? Why did Reid and former Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) draft a measure so certain to anger powerful stakeholders — from lottery directors to Native American tribes to gaming officials — in states other than Nevada?
They say Reid had the best shot ever to have pushed the bill through Congress last year. But he never formally introduced legislation — not because he lacked GOP support, some say, but because he didn’t have enough Democrats with him…But even Reid’s longtime backer, American Gaming Association CEO Frank Fahrenkopf, is skeptical. “Heller and Kyl went to Republican senators, and most of them agreed something had to be done about the problem, but until we see a bill and look at it, we can’t say for certain we’re going to vote for it,” Fahrenkopf said. “Sen. Reid had the same problem on the Democratic side.”
Fahrenkopf, who recently retired from the AGA, is also a former chairman of the Republican National Committee, so he’s very well connected in Washington, especially in the GOP. I don’t really like this bill, but it’s probably the only realistic way online poker is going to be legalized. All forms of online gambling should be legal because it simply isn’t the government’s job to protect you from your own vices (and the overwhelming majority of people who gamble do so responsibly; we don’t ban alcohol — anymore — because a small percentage of people who drink have a problem with it). And it certainly isn’t the job of the government to protect either the big casino interests or the Native American casinos from competition.