Gambling and the Law: The Reid-Kyl letter on Internet gambling

18 July 2011
Leaders of the Democratic and Republican Parties in the Senate have sent the U.S. Attorney General a letter demanding that the Justice Department do something about Internet gambling. What, exactly, is up to the reader. This Rorschach inkblot test of a letter allows proponents and opponents to project their hopes and wishes on whether the federal government will ever do anything, other than make a few showy arrests, about online gaming.

The fact that the authors could agree on even a letter is itself amazing. Harry Reid is the Majority Leader and a moderate Democrat. He represents Nevada, which makes him pro-gambling. Jon Kyl (R.-AZ) is a conservative Republican, a redundancy since all but two Republicans (the senators from Maine) are conservative. He is the GOP Whip, the third most powerful Republican, and responsible for rounding up the votes of his party in the Senate. More significantly, he is so opposed to Internet gambling that his name has become synonymous with efforts to outlaw it, as in "the Kyl bill."

So how did sworn enemies come together on this issue? And what exactly did they agree to?

Optimists see the letter as a breakthrough, that Kyl is getting ready to allow, at least, intra-state Internet poker. As additional evidence, they point to this language from Kyl's website:

"Efforts to carve out an exception for games like poker, which many believe is a game of skill, may be considered later this year. Until I have the chance to review them, I cannot make a judgment about their merits; but I will consider them carefully as long as they leave in place the broader proscriptions against online betting."

But, if anyone thinks Kyl has suddenly become reasonable, here is the preceding paragraph:

"I have opposed efforts to legalize Internet gambling in the past because evidence suggests that it fosters problems unlike any other forms of gambling. Online players can gamble 24 hours a day from home; children can play without sufficient age verification; and betting with a credit card can undercut a player’s perception of the value of cash — leading to possible addiction and, in turn, bankruptcy, crime, and even suicide."

So, what is really going on? It is not cynical to remember we are dealing here with professional politicians. Notice, for example, Kyl's careful language about Internet gambling being "unlike any other forms of gambling." Kyl is a social conservative, one of those Big Brother types who want government in the wedding chapel, bedroom and doctor's office, particularly if you are female. He is against gambling. But Arizona's casino tribes are politically powerful and able to give, or withhold, millions of dollars in campaign donations.

Reid says he is personally opposed to Internet gambling. But he represents Nevada casinos. So, his position switched when the American Gaming Association's switched. Reid went so far as to introduce his own online gaming bill, which would have benefited Harrah's (now renamed Caesars).

Deconstructing the letter, it is clear the real enemies are the state lotteries. The one thing Reid and Kyl can agree on is that Internet poker should be run by their constituents: Indian casinos for Kyl and commercial casinos for Reid. So, it is possible that Congress might legalize intra-state and ever interstate online poker, if they can figure out a way to prevent state lotteries from being the operators.

Of course, this requires Congress to actually do something. Reid has proven himself to be such a weak leader that Democrats could not accomplish their full agenda, even when they had the Presidency, control of the House, and a filibuster-proof 60 votes in the Senate. And the Republicans were rewarded in the 2010 election for being the "Party of No." They are anti-government to begin with -- except for trying to impose their religious views on everyone else -- and believe they can win in 2012 if Obama accomplishes nothing more.

Some conservatives, like Rep. Joe Barton (R.-TX), best known for apologizing to BP for the White House daring to investigate its Gulf oil spill, have come out in favor of Internet poker. But all it will take is one letter from an anti-gambling religious group, like Focus on the Family, to get the right-wing riled up. The tea-party controls the GOP, and while Democrats still have the presidency and a majority in the Senate, the Republicans have veto power over everything.

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I. Nelson Rose

Articles by Professor I. Nelson Rose is an internationally known scholar, public speaker and writer and is recognized as one of the world's leading authorities on gambling law. A 1979 graduate of Harvard Law School, he is a tenured full Professor at Whittier Law School in Costa Mesa, California, where he teaches one of the first law school classes on gaming law. Professor Rose is the author of more than 300 books, articles, book chapters columns. He is best known for his internationally syndicated column, "Gambling and the Law ®," and his landmark 1986 book by the same name. His most recent book is a collection of columns and analysis, co-authored with Bob Loeb, on Blackjack and the Law. A consultant to governments and industry, Professor Rose has testified as an expert witness in administrative, civil and criminal cases in the U.S., Australia and New Zealand, and has acted as a consultant to major law firms, international corporations, licensed casinos, players, Indian tribes, and local, state and national governments, including Arizona, California, Florida, Illinois, Michigan, New Jersey, Texas and the federal governments of Canada and the United States. With the rising interest in gambling throughout the world, Professor Rose has spoken before such diverse groups as the F.B.I., National Conference of State Legislatures, Congress of State Lotteries of Europe, United States Conference of Mayors, and the National Academy of Sciences. He has presented scholarly papers on gambling in Nevada, New Jersey, Puerto Rico, England, Australia, Antigua, Portugal, Italy, Argentina and the Czech Republic. He is the author of Internet Gaming Law (1st & 2nd editions), Blackjack and the Law and Gaming Law: Cases and Materials.

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