Partisan Senate Rift Widens over Web Poker

by , Sep 17, 2012 | 10:00 am

WASHINGTON – A rift between Nevada’s senators widened Monday over a high-stakes bill that would clear the way for Nevada casinos to offer legal online poker to gamblers nationwide.

The split between Sens. Harry Reid and Dean Heller elevates the already steep odds that Congress could pass a lucrative yet controversial gaming bill in the waning days of this year’s session.

Reid, the Democratic Senate majority leader, has readied an online poker bill and has been seeking a way to get it passed, even as Senate officials acknowledge it is 15 votes or so short of the necessary majority.

Reid had set a deadline of Monday to see whether enough votes could be gathered for the bill to move in the less than three weeks remaining before Congress recesses for the November elections. It is expected to return for a lame-duck session after Election Day.

In a letter Monday evening, Heller objected to the deadline, saying that “this was not a strategy we discussed.” He said it would be best for the Senate to step back and let the House of Representatives act first on Web poker.

“Any change in this strategy jeopardizes the passage of this issue in both chambers,” Heller said in the letter, adding he and Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., “have been working hard on this issue.”

A Reid spokeswoman said Heller’s letter was an attempt “to run for cover” on Web poker. House bills on Internet poker have been stalled since late last year.

“Several months ago Senator Reid asked Senator Heller to secure Republican votes to help pass an Internet poker bill, and to date, Senator Heller has not been able to secure any support,” Kristen Orthman said. “Unfortunately, rather than standing to fight for this important issue for Nevada, Senator Heller has decided to run for cover and attempt to lay blame on others.”

Heller’s office did not comment. Earlier this summer, Heller said the onus is on Reid to get the bill passed because he is the Senate leader who took the lead on the issue.

Among Senate Republicans, only Heller and Kyl have publicly been supportive of an online poker bill.

A bill has not been introduced, and only a summary sheet has circulated among a small number of lobbyists and lawmakers. Sources say differences remain among stakeholders on some of its provisions.

The bill generally would establish a federal system to regulate poker over the Internet. In the process, proponents want to scale back a revised Justice Department opinion on the 1961 Wire Act that gave states the go-ahead to offer online gaming within their borders.

Besides the shrinking congressional calendar, the federal bill faces opposition in the states and from vendors who are eyeing lucrative state contracts.

Some Republicans, including influential casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, also have challenged whether children or problem gamblers could be kept away from the online games.
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