Harry Reid, the long-serving senator from Nevada and current Senate Minority Leader, has announced he will not be seeking reelection in 2016. This announcement not only creates a void in Nevada politics, but also in the current battle over the potential legalization/prohibition of online gaming in the United States.
Reid is, unsurprisingly, a strong ally to gaming interests, but his allegiance to the industry doesn’t extend to online gambling, despite major casino corporations like MGM, Caesars, and Boyd all involved in the space and political contributors to Reid’s campaign coffers.
What Reid has pushed for in the past is the legalization of online poker and the prohibition of most other forms of online gambling, but more recently he has signaled that while he would prefer a poker carveout, the lack of an exemption for online poker wouldn’t be a nonstarter for him.
This forever unanswered “which is more important to you” question has long troubled pro-regulation advocates when it comes to Harry Reid’s purported support for online poker legislation.
The general consensus among most analysts was Reid’s anti-iCasino stance was placating Sheldon Adelson (whom Reid has spoken fondly of) in order to prevent the powerful Republican donor from getting overly involved in Reid’s race. At the same time Reid needed to satisfy other gaming entities in Nevada who were in favor of online gambling, which is why many people feel nothing has been done about iGaming.
With Reid announcing he will retire, many people are wondering if this is good news or bad news for online poker in both the short and long-term.
Reid could exit through one of two doors
The question is now: Does Reid leave Congress giving Adelson a nice gift and make RAWA a major part of his final term, or does he give the man who has long been a thorn in his side from a policy perspective the middle finger on his way out the door and refuse to support the bill?
While Reid has never been accused of being blunt, based on recent comments, it would seem the former is the more likely result.
In an interview with Nevada Public Radio on the day he announced his retirement, Reid said he worked hard to get legal online poker for Nevada, and that it would be good for the state to have it controlled, but he couldn’t get that done.
Reid then said, “I believe that online gaming is not good for our country.” Reid went on to say that “Lindsey Graham is the sponsor of that legislation [RAWA], and I’ve not stood in his way at all.”
This echoes Reid’s actions and statements during the 2014 lame duck session in which it was widely rumored he would back RAWA, with or without a poker carveout.
“I think the proliferation of gambling on the Internet is not good for our country,” Reid told Steve Tetreault of the Las Vegas Review-Journal. “I think it is an invitation to crime. I think it is hard to control for crime when you’ve got brick-and-mortar places, let alone something up in the sky someplace, and it is very bad for children.”
Reid crystallized this point by saying, “If there is a chance to (legalize) poker, I will do that, but I am not for the Wire Act.”
Writing was on the wall for retirement
Harry Reid is not a young man.
If he were to win reelection in 2016 he would start a six-year senate term at age 77. Further complicating matters was the recent gym accident that left Reid battered and bruised and without sight in one of his eyes.
For these reasons, a Reid reelection campaign is something I doubted would occur if the Republicans took control of the Senate in 2014 (which they did), reducing Reid from Majority Leader to Minority Leader – which is the political equivalent of being perpetually on defense in a basketball game, as you can stop the other team from scoring but can never score yourself.
Furthermore, a win in 2016 was far from a certainty.
Harry Reid was expected to lose his seat in 2010, and likely would have if Sharon Angle hadn’t fallen from the sky and beaten other, more legitimate candidates in the Republican primary. In 2016 Reid’s seat is expected to bring forth viable candidates, including, perhaps, current Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval. With or without Sheldon Adelson’s involvement Reid would be underdog to keep his seat in 2016.
Finally, there is the utter dysfunction in Congress, and as the Minority Leader Reid’s role would essentially be defensive in nature, blocking legislation Republicans tried to pass by incorporating the legislative parlor tricks the Republican minority in the Senate has used over the past six years to make sure nothing gets done.
Who grabs the seat?
The long-term question for online poker is who will replace Reid, and will their win be thanks to Sheldon Adelson or Nevada’s powerful unions and/or other gaming corporations?
It’s a little early to start forecasting, but you would be hard-pressed to find a Nevada politician more in favor of an online gaming ban than Harry Reid. Hopefully his retirement will be good news for online poker and online gaming regulation in the long-term.
Image by American Spirit / Shutterstock.com