Harry Reid Changes His Position, Gives Vocal Support to Restore America’s Wire Act
U.S. Senator Harry Reid recently announced his general support for the anti-online gambling legislation supported by his friend, Sheldon Adelson. Though Harry Reid is a Democrat, he has been a US Congressman from the state of Nevada for 34 years, so he is quite familiar with Las Vegas gaming executives, including the arch-conservative Sheldon Adelson.
Harry Reid spoke on NPR about the legislation in question: Restore America’s Wire Act (RAWA). RAWA was proposed in the House of Representatives by Republican Jason Chaffetz. Though the bill is not considered likely to pass, it received a hearing late last month before a subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee. That panel was stacked with opponents of online gambling, because 5 of 16 co-sponsors of the bill sit on the subcommittee.
Voiced His Opinion on NPR
Reid has opposed a ban on online gambling in the past, but he indicated to KNPR that he is ready to give his support at present. He said, “Well, we will see what the legislation does–we will see what the House does. But I think, for the state of Nevada, online gamblng is not the direction we should go.”
Why Vegas Dislikes Online Gambling
The gaming industry is no different than other industries. Businessmen do not like competition, so the brick-and-mortar casino industry of Nevada has long been sour on the idea of online gambling. Internet casinos which can be accessed with desktop computers, laptops, tablets, and smartphones are a direct threat to the long term business model of the destination resort.
While many gamblers never are going to prefer playing on their iPhone or iPad while sitting at home on the couch, many gamblers will. In most instances, the people who plan a trip to Las Vegas for a weekend of gambling are not the same people who prefer mobile gaming. A certain amount of crossover does occur, and that is seen as a problem for land-based casino executives and the politicians who respond to their donations.
Adelson’s Crusader to End Legal Online Casinos
Sheldon Adelson is the classic example of a land-based casino executive who is hostile to the idea of online gambling. The chairman of the Las Vegas Sands Corporation, who has collected over $38 billion in winnings from gamblers, said in 2013 he would spend “whatever it takes” to ban online gambling in 50 states. Adelson’s reason for promoting such a ban is concern that online casinos might prey on gamblers.
Most of the gambling public raised its eyebrows that the world’s richest casino owner would become a moral watchdog, but Adelson also spent $90 million on political contributions in the 2012 presidential election cycle and expects to spend $100 million-plus more in the 2016 elections. With such money to throw around, Adelson has plenty of politicians on both sides of the aisle willing to do his bidding. Senator Lindsey Graham, who has presidential aspirations, and Representative Jason Chaffetz, who comes from the gambling-hostile state of Utah, have been Adelson’s champions in Congress.
Harry Reid Soon to Retire
That is not to say Harry Reid is siding with Chaffetz and Graham because he needs political contributions. After 34 years in Congress, Sen. Reid recently announced he would be retiring from politics when his term is complete. With no constituency to answer to and no contributors to please, Reid should be voting his conscience.
An opinion piece on Flushdraw by Haley Hintze suggested that was not likely to be the case, given Reid’s long track record of self-serving behavior. Hintze pointed out the 2011 online poker legislation proposed by Harry Reid and Jon Kyl. She also repeated allegations made by Jeremy Johnson that the legislation was the result of a $1 million bribe by Full Tilt Poker. The bill eventually failed when Full Tilt Poker became embroiled in the Black Friday Scandal and its executives (Howard Lederer, Chris Ferguson, and Ray Bitar) had to concern themselves with more serious matters.
In the end, Reid’s decision may come down to simple friendship with Sheldon Adelson. Andy Abboud, who works for Sheldon Adelson at the Las Vegas Sands, said, “I think (Reid) hears Mr. Adelson’s position, and I think the fact that they share that position speaks volumes about where he is on the issue.”
That sounds about right. In the interview, Harry Reid said “online gaming is not good for our country”. When he was trying to pass a law which would have regulated online poker several years ago, the senator thought differently. Reid told the interviewer, if the House approved such a bill, the Senate would “give it a good hard try.”
The Flushdraw piece pointed out that Adelson once was a Democrat and the Adelson/Reid friendship survived Adelson’s switch of parties. In fact, the suggestion was made that the LVS executive had assured Harry Reid never faced a serious Republican challenger for his senate seat these last several terms. Whatever the case is with Harry Reid, with his retirement on the horizon, it may be that he does not have the power to compel his fellow Democrats to vote his way.
Politicians Voting Their Conscience?
In fact, if Restore America’s Wire Act ever reaches the floors of the House and the Senate for a vote, most members of the US Congress are likely to vote their conscience. US lawmakers are not as likely to vote the strict party-line on moral issues. The whips in each party do not see such votes as essential to the party’s life (much of the time), and they know the candidate has to justify those votes to constituents back home.
For that reason, a vote on RAWA is likely to be difficult to predict. It is a bipartisan bill, though most of the members sponsoring it are Republicans. The two key contributers to RAWA are members of the GOP. Yet at the same time, a whole list of GOP lawmakers and lobbyists are against the anti-online gambling bill: Grover Norquist, Ron Paul, and a number of the top PACs in Washington D.C.
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