Senators Reid and Heller On Banning Internet Gambling

Written By Steve Ruddock on March 5, 2014 - Last Updated on January 8, 2020
harry reid dean heller online poker ban

Recently the junior senator from Nevada, Dean Heller, made some very interesting and contentious comments to the Las Vegas Review-Journal with regard to online gambling.

Echoing many of Sheldon Adelson’s and the Coalition to Stop Intern Gambling’s talking points (and referencing Adelson by name) Heller told the LVRJ that a bill banning all forms of online gambling with the exception of online poker would be introduced into the Senate in the near future.

Heller also spoke for his fellow Nevadan who also happens to be the Senate Majority Leader, Harry Reid, telling the LVRJ that, “There is no daylight between where Senator Reid and myself are on this particular issue.” If this is indeed the case it is a very worrisome statement for online gambling advocates.

But are these two really on the same page when it comes to online gambling? The answer could be yes and no, as I’ll explain below.

What you would like vs. what you will do

There is a big difference between what you would personally do and what you think should be done in general, and this is especially true in politics where you see people who are pro-life in their personal lives voting pro-choice, and this may be along the lines of what Harry Reid is playing at here.

Reid might completely agree with the premise of the bill, that online gambling sans poker should be banned, but he may not think this is the right move for Nevada or for the country. Furthermore, it could all be phooey; little more than politicking 101.

To me, this entire “Wire Act Fix” proposal is little more than effort to appease Sheldon Adelson while at the same time appeasing the already launched online poker industry in Nevada. And the best outcome for all involved is for nothing to happen on the federal level, which is why the proposed bill is designed the way it is (more on this at the end of this article).

If you want to know what will likely happen with this legislation you can read my thoughts in this column, but if you just want the cliffs version:

The bill will be stymied at every step during the legislative process to keep it from coming to the floor for a vote. Amendments in committee; amendments on the floor; filibustered for cloture; filibustered for a vote. Assuming the bill even gets introduced it will face so many roadblocks and the 100 US Senators will make it unrecognizable and unpassable simply to avoid taking a vote on something that puts them between State’s Rights advocates and Christian Conservatives.

I’ve used this analogy in the past and it still fits quite perfectly: Federal online gambling legislation is like Lucy holding the football for Charlie Brown.

The 2012 Reid / Heller Bill is a good indicator of the muddy process

This is precisely what happened to a similar bill back in 2012, where it didn’t even clear the first hurdle.

In 2012 Harry Reid was very vocal about his desire to pass an online poker bill, and became a public cheerleader of the proposed bill that never came to be. Reid initially laid the failure at the feet of Senator Heller, saying he was unable to muster any Republican support, later changing his tune to the more diplomatic, “we have simply run out of time in this legislative calendar.”

Now this time around it’s Heller who is the public face of the potential bill (which would certainly resemble the previous incarnation from 2012) while Reid stays on the sidelines without making a peep, letting Heller speak for him—a complete reversal of 2012.

One of two things may be going on here.

  1. Harry Reid may have told Heller if he wants to introduce the bill he will have to do the cheerleading this time around, as the failure in 2012 was attached almost exclusively to Reid. UNLIKELY.
  2. The two of them may be putting on a nice dog and pony show for Sheldon Adelson in order to court his favor for upcoming election campaigns—or at the very least to not draw his ire—and at the same time keep the other Nevada casinos happy with their online poker carve out. HIGHLY LIKELY.

If the answer is #2, then yes, both senators are on the same page, but the bill still has virtually no chance of making it to the senate floor for a vote… And even if it does it then has to go through the House of Representatives, where any changes made (assuming it then passes) would send it back to the Senate, and so on and so forth.

Basically, it’s an ugly process, and when you have a contentious bill that delves into debates over state’s rights vs. the morals of gambling, with the added headache of a carve-out for a particular type of gambling; it’s a vote very few lawmakers are going to want to take.

Interestingly, it looks as if it will be South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham who will introduce the “Wire Act Fix” bill but without the online poker carve-out! Obviously Reid and Heller will quickly try to amend this and you’ll have your first battle lines drawn, and you can expect many more before an online gambling (pro or con) ever gets a vote in the Senate.

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Steve Ruddock

Steve is a well-recognized voice in the regulated U.S. online gambling industry. He writes for a number of online and print publications including, USA Today, and others, with a focus on the legal market.

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