Las Vegas Sun

June 30, 2015

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WHERE I STAND:

Online gaming is more than political

The Day of Atonement has come and gone for another year.

That is the day that Jews around the world atone for our sins and ask God to inscribe us for another year in the Book of Life. It is a day we pray for all people of good will to be inscribed in that Book. Emphasis on the good will part.

Meanwhile, back in real life, the United States is preparing for another presidential election, one of the distinctions that sets us apart from almost every other country. We have peaceful transitions of power in the United States, in contrast to so much of what we see and hear on the news about other people around the globe yearning to be free but having great difficulty getting there.

That means for the next five or six weeks, politics will rule the day. It will rule the airwaves, the Internet and pretty much every facet of our waking and, dare I say it, sleeping parts of our lives. Even though most Americans have decided for whom they will vote for all national, state and local offices, there are still a few — hard to believe it — who need more time to decide. And so all we will hear and see until Election Day is the sound of a lot more money being spent to persuade a lot fewer voters. It is all politics, all the time.

But that doesn’t mean that politics does or should determine all that is done for us or to us. Sometimes there are noble reasons why the politicians act the way they do. But, I admit, it is so hard to determine that nobility in the heat of an emotional election cycle.

Based upon what I know to be the case, not what someone on the Internet said or someone at the water cooler whispered — they still have water cooler discussions somewhere, right? — I would like to discuss Internet poker, its importance to Nevada, and the political spin that threatens it and the tens of thousands of jobs to be created and saved in our state.

Along with a number of other Nevadans who understand the stakes involved, I have tried to be helpful in making this thing happen. This thing, by the way, is federal legislation that will regulate the provision of Internet gaming in the United States. As with most things related to cyberspace, the future of bricks-and-mortar businesses — in this case our casino industry — is being challenged by not only a far less expensive way of allowing people to gamble but, as the generations move forward, a far more natural way for people to play.

That doesn’t mean Las Vegas will go away; it just means that the more people are allowed to play their casino-type games from the comfort of their living rooms, the fewer times they will actually get off those couches and come for the real thing. Even 20 percent fewer trips or a similar drop in dollars gambled could have a devastating effect on our economy. Witness the past four years!

So, it is very important that the widespread offering of legal, multistate cyber gambling across all 50 states doesn’t happen. Should that actually be the case, with the race to the bottom that will occur with regard to regulation and taxes, it takes very little imagination to see a time when Las Vegas loses its mass appeal and no longer draws millions of people to our hotel rooms every night for the 2 million people who live here to survive and prosper.

Instead, a federal program of regulation and taxation — with most money going back to the states — makes sense because it will not only prohibit casino gaming on the Internet, which will keep Las Vegas foremost on people’s minds, but it could advance games such as poker so that the billions of untaxed revenue that goes offshore can remain in the United States for the benefit of the people who live in this country. Not to mention the direct benefit to companies with names such as MGM and Caesars and Station and Wynn and ... well, you can figure out what it means when our own gaming companies can get healthier through more jobs in Nevada and more tax revenue available to go where they are needed.

As long as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid stays where he is and as long as President Barack Obama keeps his word to close Yucca Mountain and keep it closed, what was once the greatest threat to our long-term health — physical and economic— will be no longer.

It is my belief that next to Yucca, the online poker initiative will have the biggest impact of anything out there today. We are talking tens of thousands of jobs not lost and thousands gained if this is done right. And just like the Yucca fight, there must be no politics, no Republican or Democrat positions dividing our state’s elected officials, and no gamesmanship played for some short-term advantage for one person or another.

No one knows this better than Reid. With the help of the entire Nevada delegation over the past three decades, he has made good on his word to close Yucca Mountain. He cared not why and how it got closed or which political party or office holder got the credit. Closing Yucca was a Nevada imperative. It still is.

And so is Internet poker.

What disturbs me most because it creates so much confusion among Nevada voters is the ham-handed attempt by our junior senator, Dean Heller, to mix politics into what must be a pan-Nevada effort by all elected officials to do what they can to advance the cause of our state’s major and, most times, only significant industry.

Those who know him have always trusted Reid to do what he says he will do, oftentimes without a clue as to how he will do it. That holds true with regard to Internet poker.

Yes, the polarization in Washington makes the very difficult now nearly impossible, but Harry thrives in times like these. Others just panic!

What Heller has to do, if it is not too late, is rustle up some Republicans the way any senator would do for the benefit of his state. And then he has to do whatever it is that Reid says because that is how Nevada will get what it needs to get done. And he needs to do it without resorting to the political games that have been so evident this month.

With or without Heller’s help, this poker deal must get done, and Reid may be the only person around with the ability to make it happen. He can do it with Heller’s help or he can do it in spite of our junior senator. It is just a question of relevance.

Relevant office holders act in the interests of their state before they consider their own, far less significant, interests. That is how you avoid the Yucca Mountains in your life!

Brian Greenspun is publisher and editor of the Las Vegas Sun.

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