A View from Washington through the Eyes of Richard Bryan

13 August 2001
Recently retired U.S. Senator and former Nevada Governor Richard H. Bryan paid a surprise visit to a public meeting of the Nevada Gaming Commission last month and gave those in attendance an update on the legal and political online gaming fronts.

Bryan, who is currently practicing law with Las Vegas-based law firm Lionel Sawyer and Collins, admitted that the political future of online gaming has changed with the new administration taking over the White House.

One of the biggest changes, according to Bryan, is the lack of a solid foundation within the newly revamped Justice Department. Many key department positions haven't been filled, or took longer than expected to get filled, Bryan said, leaving a lack of direction within the rank and file.

Bryan said that the Justice Department could release a legal opinion regarding the relationship between the Federal Wire Act of 1961 and online gambling. Regardless of what happens with the Justice Department, the U.S. Legislature could move to pass a prohibition bill preventing Internet gambling on a federal level.

Adding to the haziness of any movement--for or against online gaming--is the change in direction among Nevada-based gaming interests. Just one year ago many of the land-based operators tried to prevent any infiltration of the online sector in the United States. The tone has quickly changed and Bryan said that has put many legislators in an awkward place.

Now, mixed signals are coming from Washington.

"It is much more difficult to pass legislation than it is to prevent it," Bryan said.

Although some key congressmen, chief among them Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., and Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Virg., are trying to limit the availability of interactive gaming, Bryan said the issue is not a major priority for either party.

A proposed prohibition bill in the House has also raised the eyebrows of some as it has amendments allowing for tribal gaming and lotteries to operate over the Web.

Another element to consider during the upcoming months, according to Bryan, is the timing of the legislative calendar.

Bryan said Congress will start to tackle key, hot-button issues toward the end of September and the beginning of October. He expects the winter recess to come in early or mid-November.

Regardless of the political future of any bills, Bryan said Kyl and Goodlatte, who both have sponsored prohibition bills, have been energized in the fight to stop Internet gambling thanks to the recent introduction of prohibition bills in the House.

But he also pointed out that Congress and the Bush administration are not focused on the issue. He said by its nature Congress is a reactive body and without a great swell of demand from the public a ban on any Internet activity seems unlikely. Without that element of force behind them, Bryan said, there's a lack of momentum in this session of Congress compared to last year.

But the former Nevada governor also warns that any scenario regarding Internet gambling can't be discounted as long as the legal gray area exists. Between case law and the legislative activity, it's still too early to predict what will happen with Internet gambling on the federal level.

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