Reid Screwed Up Online Poker Legalization

Reid Screwed Up Online Poker Legalization January 28, 2013

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.

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  • Michael Heath

    American Gaming Association CEO Frank Fahrenkopf, is skeptical:

    . . . until we see a bill and look at it, we can’t say for certain we’re going to vote for it . . .

    [emphasis mine – MH]

    Freudian slip?

  • eric

    Why would the bill have to specifically bar anything? Just legalize poker and say nothing about the rest. That might still tick off lottery directors etc. but he probably could’ve sold it to them with a statement like “there is no political will to expand online gambling further. Baby steps.” The way he did it, it looks like he went out of his way to antagonize them.

  • eric-

    Because that’s the way to get Republican support for the bill.

  • Who Cares

    Geez, he could have used Antigua as a club pointing out that not legalizing (and not just for US places) would mean allowing the country to legally ignore copyright and due to that cost the USA hundreds if not thousands of jobs and tax revenue and loss of movies/music not made and ….

  • abb3w

    @0,Ed Brayton

    it simply isn’t the government’s job to protect you from your own vices

    That’s a social engineering design choice on manner of government, not a philosophical necessity.

    Also, there do seem to be some individual vices where the government does take some steps to try and protect you from them, especially when there are further (sometimes direct, sometimes indirect) harms to other members of society likely.

  • Gee, I can’t imagine why a senator from Nevada might want to keep online gambling illegal.