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October 25, 2014

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Reid’s office: Legalizing online poker still on lame-duck agenda

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AP Photo/Alex Brandon

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid talks on the phone as he walks to their Senate Democratic caucus on Capitol Hill in Washington on Wednesday, Dec. 8, 2010.

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  • Harry Reid faces reporters on Wednesday
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Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's staff said late Wednesday that he is still intent on pushing for legislation during the lame duck session to legalize online poker.

The remarks came in response to a Sun article posted online earlier in the day. In that earlier article, Reid was quoted telling the Sun after a press conference that he would not be adding legalization of online poker to his list of objectives during the lame duck session.

“We’re still working on that, we’re not able to,” Reid said in a remark captured on audio tape.

A spokesman for Reid said later that the Senator’s comment got muddled in the cacophony of the Senate hallways, and that online gambling is still something he’d like to see move forward.

“Senator Reid’s response to the question was that we’re still working on it. The second part of his quote was in response to a question he heard of someone asking about the House schedule,” said Reid spokesman Tom Brede late Wednesday, a few hours after the story originally ran. The second question isn’t audible on the tape and Reid did not pause much between the clauses, but Reid and one of his spokesmen said that the Senator was in fact responding to a question posed about the GOP’s proposal to do three weeks in session, followed by one week out.

The gaming lobby was in a frenzy Wednesday in the wake of the report. Sources who are big backers of Harry Reid said they expected the senator to at least be pushing politically to bring the bill to the floor during the lame duck session, even if it could not carry enough votes to pass, because after Jan. 1, the issue would be politically dead.

The plan everyone was hoping for, gaming lobby sources said, was to have the online poker legalization be brought up as a last-minute measure, attached to a larger legislation — most likely the tax extenders bill — and carried as an amendment. While sources admitted they had received no promise from Reid that he would indeed pursue that plan, their sense was that the majority leader was on board.

Reid’s office hasn’t been willing to comment on the state of the draft bill that has been circulating Congress for a little over a week now, which lays out a plan to legalize online poker, and have the states and federal government cooperate to license companies hoping to enter new market, and share revenues generated. The industry is currently worth about $25 billion.

Current ranking members (soon-to-be chairs) Spencer Bachus of the Financial Services Committee, Dave Camp of the Ways and Means Committee, and Lamar Smith of the Judiciary Committee wrote a letter to Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell last week voicing their opposition to speeding a gambling bill through during the lame duck.

Next year, those ranking members will be chairmen and well-poised to block any effort Reid might be able to spearhead through the Senate from coming up in the House.

In 2006, a Republican-led House passed the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act, which made all forms of gambling on the Internet for money illegal. The draft language that was circulating would have legalized online poker only, but that’s still an industry that is estimated to engage 15 million participants a year — a number that is only expected to grow if the industry becomes legal.

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