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The governor and gaming

carlson CHRIS


Governor C. L. “Butch” Otter may have to decide down the road one of these days whether to go with his libertarian free market instincts or pay the piper that has orchestrated so much gaming money for his re-election effort. Stick with his principles or go with the dough? Which will it be? A safe bet is he opts to dance to the tune played by the money interests.

The issue is Internet gaming, which is currently the subject of a raging, bitter debate within gaming circles. On the one side is billionaire Sheldon Adelson who chairs Las Vegas Sands, which owns the Venetian and the Palazzo on the Vegas strip. He believes allowing Internet gaming will doom the entire industry.

In particular he sees major Internet interests like Google and Facebook expanding into Internet gaming because of their huge customer bases. He believes such a move would doom current gambling set-ups and there are many who agree with him.

Others of course just see more players, a bigger market and more money to be made. Plus, they believe present law allows individuals states to decide the matter. Adelson and his allies are pushing federal legislation that would ban Internet gaming by closing a three-year-old loophole in the law.

Adelson is reportedly worth $38 billion and during the last election cycle without batting an eye poured $100 million into various Republican campaigns. He is fully prepared to battle the issue out state-by-state, but closing the loophole in Federal law is the easier path to pursue and Adelson has recruited not only top talent like former New York Governor George Pataki, he also has canny South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham on his side.

Adelson also successfully neutralized the industry’s powerful trade group, the American Gaming Association, by threatening to withdraw and bank-roll a rival organization if the group weighed in for Internet gaming as it appeared inclined to do.

Opposing casinos and online poker companies have formed their own lobbying group, which calls itself the Coalition for Consumer and Online Protection. Two of their chief lobbyists are former Republican members of Congress Michael Oxley of Ohio, and Mary Bono of California. The group also has reportedly retained Boise-raised, Capital High graduate and Obama campaign manager Jim Messina, as well as former Mississippi Governor and uber-Republican lobbyist Haley Barbour. Politics does make for strange bedfellows at times.

Governor Otter knows all these players, having served in Congress with Oxley and Bono and his gubernatorial terms coincided with Barbour’s.

Follow the money, though, to get a pretty fair idea where Otter will be when and if legislation comes before him (Assuming he is re-elected) that would either ban on-line gaming, which he would probably sign, or allow on-line gaming which would potentially generate some nice tax money for the state, which he would probably veto.

Why speculate this way? A little noted item in the excellent story the Idaho Statesman’s political reporter, Dan Popkey, did when he reviewed and identified almost $80,000 in donations to Otter’s campaign from Vegas gaming interests in January was that the Governor had become acquainted with Steve Wynn while in Macau, the world’s largest gaming enterprise just off the coast of China, owned and operated by Mr. Wynn who also owns and operates a large Vegas casino.

Mr. Wynn, his wife, parents and companies all maxed out at $5,000 a piece for Governor Otter. One has to ask just what in heck was the Governor doing in Macau while on a trade mission to the orient since there is virtually no way an island gaming operation can offer anything of trade to the state of Idaho? But Macau is where Otter told Popkey he first became acquainted with Wynn and family.

Wynn is now reportedly siding with Adelson and while somewhat more quietly is nonetheless opposed to internet gaming. He reasons that there is no way to police internet gaming and keep children off the computer making wagers they can’t cover and he also believes the government would confiscate most of the profits in what proponents see as a potential $8 billion annually in profit.

Idaho’s Native American casinos are also throwing in with Adelson and Wynn for they too see on-line gaming as a threat to their future success. Otter’s last report showed the Coeur d’Alene Casino had contributed the max $5,000 to Otter also.

Is there any doubt in anyone’s mind, then, that the governor’s libertarian free-market principles have already given way to money that tells him to stick with those that are sticking with him?

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