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August 29, 2015

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Reid chides Heller for failing to garner support for poker bill

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Steve Marcus

Sens. Dean Heller, left, and Harry Reid attend a Memorial Day ceremony in Boulder City on May 30, 2011.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's frustration with Republican Sen. Dean Heller over Internet poker legislation has escalated another notch, with Nevada's senior senator telling Heller that he is failing to represent Nevada in the high-stakes effort to protect the state's gaming industry.

At issue is an effort by Reid, with the support of Heller and Arizona Republican Sen. Jon Kyl, to win Senate adoption of a bill that would give federal approval specifically to Internet poker but otherwise choke off online gaming. Such legislation is seen in some corners as critical in preserving Nevada's role in the nascent online gaming industry at a time when other states, including California, are positioning themselves to allow Internet gaming within their boundaries — a development that could sap Nevada's gaming industry.

Reid has been unable to lock 60 votes to secure veto-proof passage of Internet poker legislation, having previously said he could deliver 45 votes but needed Heller and Kyl to pony up with 15 Republican votes to get the bill passed.

On Monday, Heller wrote Reid that rather than try to win Senate approval for such a bill, the legislation should be launched in the House. Democrats are more than skeptical that the House would pass such a bill.

On Tuesday, Reid scolded Heller. "In May, you agreed to help me cement Republican support for the bill in the Senate," he wrote Heller. "Since then, you have been unable to garner the necessary Republican votes to pass this bill. As a result, we are at a standstill. And every day we stand still, Nevada's workers, its economy and its gaming industry suffers."

Reid said the legalization and regulation of online poker "may be the most important issue facing Nevada since Yucca Mountain. This bill means jobs for Nevada."

The reason: In the absence of federal legislation defining and regulating online gaming and poker, states will be allowed to fill the vacuum by adopting their own laws allowing online gambling within their jurisdictions. The development of online gaming in California is seen as a threat to the flow of tourists to Nevada. Reid's bill is intended to block Internet gaming with the exception of online poker, which Nevada-based companies are well positioned to offer.

In his letter to Heller, Reid wrote: "I did not want this issue to become political in nature, but I cannot stand by while you abdicate your responsibility as a U.S. senator representing Nevada. Nevadans deserve someone who will fight for them. Not someone who is willing to stand by and suggest that others should fight for them."

Heller is seeking election in November to the Senate seat to which he was appointed last year, running against Democrat Rep. Shelley Berkley.

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