Lame-Duck Wrinkle: A Push to Legalize Online Poker?

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Amid the wrangling over tax-cut extensions, START, DADT, the Dream Act and other top agenda items, Sen. Harry Reid is considering a bill that would legalize some forms of Internet poker, according to the Wall Street Journal. As you’d expect, the idea prompted push-back from House Republicans, with senior Reps. Spencer Bachus, Dave Camp and Lamar Smith firing off a letter to Reid and Republican leader Mitch McConnell criticizing “reports that certain interests might be pushing the Senate to attach such a bill to a ‘must pass’ measure.” The Journal has more on what such a bill might look like:

According to the draft of the bill reviewed by The Wall Street Journal, Mr. Reid’s office is considering language that would allow only existing casinos, horse tracks and slot-machine makers to operate online poker websites for the first two years after the bill passes, which could limit the ability of other companies to enter the market.
The bill would also outsource oversight to state regulators, another move supported by existing casinos that don’t want to see the federal government become overly involved in regulating their industry.
The bill as drafted would send taxes on wagers to both federal and state governments.

“Creating a Federal right to gamble that has never existed in our country’s history and imposing an unprecedented new tax regime on such activity require careful deliberation, not back-room deals,” the letter says. “Congress should not take advantage of the young, the weak and the vulnerable in the name of new revenues to cover more government spending.”

The interests Bachus and Co. refer to are those of the gaming industry, who have been among Reid’s most generous contributors, according to campaign-finance data from the Center for Responsive Politics. Jim Manley, Reid’s chief spokesman, declined TIME’s request for comment.

According to Bloomberg News, the legislation is similar to a bill that passed out of the House Financial Services Committee this summer, but was never taken up by the full chamber. No doubt the notion of passing such a measure by appending it to important lame-duck legislation would be polarizing, particularly with so much (frankly, more important) business still undone. As for the procedural criticism, context is important. This is similar to how Congress crippled online gaming in the first place: in 2006, just as the House was adjourning to hit the campaign trail, it passed a measure prohibiting banks from processing online-gambling funds by tucking it into an overwhelmingly popular port-security bill. (The combined bill passed the House 409-2.) It would be interesting to see whether the measure would resonate with the GOP’s libertarian wing–which should ideologically support a measure that gives citizens the freedom to gamble online–or others open to the idea of using additional sin taxes to help close yawning state and federal budget gaps.

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