Great golly, there's never a dull moment in this lame duck Congress, is there? Especially if you are a fan of our utterly broken system of governance! While soldiers fighting our forever wars under threat of discharge for their sexual orientation wait to see if the burden on their service gets lifted, Senator John McCain is working out in his mind how long a field goal a military that's clearly ready to repeal "Don't Ask Don't Tell" can kick in order to satisfy him. Meanwhile, lawmakers walk from one room in Washington to gravely intone about all the harrowing choices we need to make to curb deficits, into another room where they talk about the need to balloon the deficit by extending Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthy. And lots of people are still without jobs!
So many priorities, and so little seriousness. And now you find out that during this very tiny window to act, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has asked his staff to work on a bill that would legalize online poker. What the what, now? Alexandra Berzon of the Wall Street Journal explains:
Staffers for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid are circulating a bill to legalize poker playing on the Internet that's backed by large casino interests.
The Nevada casino companies pushing the measure were among the Democrat's biggest donors during his fierce re-election fight. They argue the bill would provide consumer protection for poker players and would provide some tax revenue for federal and state governments.
On Wednesday, three Republican lawmakers sent a letter to Mr. Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) opposing any efforts to pass Internet poker legislation during the lame-duck session.
Reid's office declined comment to The Huffington Post.
Basically, this is Harry Reid taking a moment during the frantic lame duck session to pass the So Long And Thanks For All The Money I Used To Defeat The Crazy Lady Running Against Me Act of 2010. Reid had hitherto been opposed to online poker -- not because the industry preys on "the young, the weak and the vulnerable in the name of new revenues to cover more government spending," as Alabama Representative Spencer Bachus (R-Ala.) complains -- but because the rise of online poker would impact the business of the people preying on the young and the weak and the vulnerable who come out to Las Vegas' blasted heath of foreclosed homes to help prove the adage "the house always wins." So why is he suddenly going to the mat for online poker?
According to the draft of the bill reviewed by The Wall Street Journal, Mr. Reid's office is considering language that would allow only existing casinos, horse tracks and slot-machine makers to operate online poker websites for the first two years after the bill passes, which could limit the ability of other companies to enter the market.
Only existing establishments, eh? Be assured that the casinos went all in for Reid. Ryan Grim put Reid on the couch in a profile around Election Day: "Reid's opacity masks what is, at bottom, a simple approach to life. It may seem odd that a Mormon convert and a teetotaler who doesn't gamble has been elected to represent Las Vegas for decades. But Las Vegas is an explicitly transactional town, with cash and connections as currency, from the bell hop and the call girl to the mine owner and hotel/casino magnate. It's a place where status and political power can be purchased for a price, regardless of the buyer's background, upbringing, pedigree or criminal record. Washington is, at root, the same, although with a gloss of sophistication to make it appear a high-minded civic pursuit."
Don't worry, it gets better:
The bill would also outsource oversight to state regulators, another move supported by existing casinos that don't want to see the federal government become overly involved in regulating their industry.
Not that you should think the federal government would do a bang-up job regulating the online poker industry, but I'm pretty sure that the Nevada casino industry is not too terribly concerned with state's rights. Rather, the Nevada casino industry has a long history with state regulators -- Reid himself, in fact, ran the gaming commission back in the days that got turned into the movie "Casino." By now, I imagine the casinos are pretty comfy with their state overseers.
Of course, Reid has been very insistent that this lame duck session of Congress achieve things that almost no one else believes are achievable, given the fact that the GOP has stored up more than enough obstruction acorns to last the winter, while the Democrats waddle around in confusion that no one seems to like them for having good intentions. So why is Reid devoting time to a measure that reeks of the scents of quid pro quo? It might have been a photo finish, but a win is a win, and the casinos' horse pulled this one out. It's time to cash in the ticket.