The already threadbare likelihood of an online poker bill getting through the lame duck session of the US Congress following November’s presidential election has grown even more unlikely now that two of the bill’s chief supporters have engaged in a public war of words. Late Monday, the Las Vegas Review-Journal’s Steve Tetrault reported that a rift had developed between Nevada’s two senators – Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D) and Dean Heller (R) – over how best to entice reluctant Republican senators to vote in favor of the online poker bill Reid has reportedly cooked up with the help of Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ).
While Reid’s bill will likely require anywhere from 10-20 GOP votes to ensure fillibuster-proof passage, Kyl and Heller are believed to be the only GOP’ers whose support for the poker bill is assured. (It likely didn’t help that the Republican National Committee expressly called for a “prohibition of gambling over the internet” in its recently released party platform.) Tetrault claims Reid hasn’t yet circulated his actual bill, just a summary sheet seen by a select few lobbyists and lawmakers.
Tetrault reports that Reid had set a deadline for Monday (10th) to see if enough votes could be lined up to take a shot at passing the bill in the three weeks left before Congress shuts down to allow the election drama to play itself out. Heller sent Reid a letter disagreeing with this deadline, saying it “was not a strategy we discussed.” Heller told Reid the Senate should take a back seat on the poker issue and let the House of Representatives take point. The current session of the House has seen the introduction of two poker bills by Republicans – HR 2366 by Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX) and HR 2230 by John Campbell (R-CA) and Jim McDermott (D-WA) – but neither bill has garnered much support since their mid-2011 introduction.
Former Las Vegas Sun scribe Jon Ralston quoted Heller spokesman Stewart Bybee as saying: “The strategy that has been discussed is that it would be beneficial for the House of Representatives to first address the issue created by Department of Justice in regard to internet gambling due to its interpretation of the Wire Act and then proceed with Senate action. Any change in this strategy jeopardizes the passage of legislation in both chambers. If for some strategic reasoning Sen. Reid believes that legislation should originate in the Senate, then it should address the root of the issue that is plaguing the gaming industry in Nevada, namely the Wire Act.”
On Monday, Reid spokesperson Kristen Orthman blasted Heller’s stance as a PR move designed to deflect the ire that will likely come when Nevada-based casino companies once again find no online poker under their Christmas trees – a failure that Reid’s camp apparently feels is the result of Heller’s influential impotence among his own party. “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. Unfortunately, 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.” Relax, you guys. We’re sure there will be blame enough for all once this sorry mess is through.