Las Vegas Sun

May 27, 2024

Casinos are elated over Reid’s promotion

Casino industry leaders were ecstatic today over the news that Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., will become the second most powerful member of the Senate.

Reid, arguably the industry's biggest supporter in Washington, brokered a deal this week for Republican Sen. James Jeffords of Vermont to turn independent and give the Democrats a 50-49 majority.

The party switch makes Reid, the Senate's majority whip and assistant majority leader, and the highest ranking Nevadan ever to serve in the upper house.

"This is very positive news for the industry and the state of Nevada," said American Gaming Association President Frank Fahrenkopf, the industry's chief Washington lobbyist. "Having a Nevadan in that position makes a helluva lot of difference."

Wayne Mehl, the Washington lobbyist for the Nevada Resort Association, gaming's political arm in Las Vegas, said Reid will give the industry a big advantage on Capitol Hill as it fends off relentless attacks from the religious right.

"Having someone there with his experience, his knowledge and now his power is awesome," Mehl said. "It will have an impact the minute he assumes that role."

Mehl said outgoing Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., was an ally of industry, but often was subject to other political pressures when issues important to Nevada surfaced.

"He didn't have the same level of concern for those issues," Mehl said. "With Harry in there, we don't have to worry about that."

MGM-MIRAGE Chairman Terry Lanni, an influential Republican who has been a strong Reid supporter over the years, said he was pleased to see Nevada's senior senator rise to such prominence.

"Harry Reid has been an extremely competent senator," Lanni said. "His peers obviously recognized the qualities the man possesses.

"He's a very straight-forward person who has passion about what he believes in, and he's been supportive of the issues that are of great importance to Nevada and its largest industry."

Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., said Jeffords' defection, which was a "long time coming," has created a somber mood among his Republican colleagues.

"I think the general feeling is to try to learn from this and get better from this and try to figure out where we go from here," he said.

Ensign said Reid was directly responsible for persuading Jeffords to go independent.

"Harry deserves credit for getting this done," he said. "If I would have been in a position to do it, I would have done the same thing. It was a very smart move on his part."

Ensign said he believes Nevada would have been better off with Republicans in control of the Senate.

But he added "there are some positives" in the change in leadership, primarily Reid's rise to the top.

Ensign and Reid have struck a cordial and good working relationship since Ensign joined the Senate this year.

Democratic talks with Jeffords intensified the past two weeks, with Reid and Democratic Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota doing most of the negotiating, Capitol Hill sources said.

Reid appeared with Daschle this morning before reporters to announce the shift in power in the Senate.

The Jeffords talks provided Reid, the current assistant Democratic leader, with a chance to showcase his skills at backroom dealing.

"This was Harry Reid at his best," one source close to the senator said. "You close the doors and behind the scenes and there's no better dealmaker than Harry Reid.

"He understands what appeals to people. Nobody can can relate better with people on a personal level than him."

Reid's willingness to give up the chairmanship of the Environment and Public Works Committee to Jeffords was regarded as the key to striking a deal.

By engineering the takeover for the Democrats, Reid is expected to hold political markers with his colleagues that will come into play when the casino industry fends off its critics on the Hill in the months ahead.

His new role as the No. 2 man in the Senate is expected to have an immediate impact on Nevada's fight with the NCAA over a ban on college sports betting, as well as the epic battle to keep high-level nuclear wast out of the state.