Following the Florida primary it’s evident that only two candidates have a legitimate shot at winning the Republican nomination. Mitt Romney is the clear front runner while Newt Gingrich is second. Rick Santorum who won in Iowa can take his lone delegate and drop out, as he has little support from anyone other than the extreme religious right and Ron Paul has no chance to win the nomination. Unlike Santorum, however, Paul could prove beneficial to the other candidates if they choose to give him a key position in exchange for his support. Paul is a media darling and is the favorite among younger voters. Moreover, his billing as one of the heads of the Tea Party could win him favor with Republicans who want a return to fiscal conservatism. Paul also has the respect and support of bettors who want online gambling legalized. As a staunch libertarian Paul has stated unequivocally that online gambling should be legalized as it’s not the government’s place to tell Americans how to live their lives or spend their money. Paul was a co-sponsor of Barney Frank’s bill to amend the UIGEA to allow for online gambling in the U.S. and no doubt if either Romney or Gingrich chose him as a vice presidential running mate or gave him a senior government post they would win a large number of votes from the gambling public.
That said, the question that many gamblers are asking is what the policies of Romney and Gingrich are on the area of regulating and legalizing online gambling in the U.S. Let’s start first with Newt Gingrich.
Gingrich has never come out with a statement about gambling one way or the other but his actions speak louder than words. Sheldon Adelson, CEO of Sands in Las Vegas has been a close ally and strong financial supporter of Gingrich both for his non profit enterprise and in his election campaign. Gingrich has generated financial support from others attached to the gambling industry as well and has even garnered donations from Asians interested in the U.S. gambling market. Moreover, in the 1990s Gingrich helped kill a tax bill aimed at Las Vegas casinos that the industry was worried about and in 1996 he voted against a proposed commission that was set to examine the gambling industry in the United States. At a time when Janet Reno announced that the government wanted to wring in those who the Clinton administration believed were thwarting U.S. gambling laws, Gingrich was one of the main opponents which ultimately stopped the commission from going forward. Ironically, that decision lost him favor with many on the religious right, a group he is now trying to cater to.
Strangely, while those actions were pro-gambling, other actions and statements contradict that belief. In 2006 Newt Gingrich was instrumental in thwarting a bill aimed at regulating online gambling (prior to the passage of the UIGEA) and comments he made recently have many wondering exactly which way he leans.
"Well, let me say up front, at the risk of offending some of my friends who've been very helpful, I worry about the degree to which the poor are the most likely to end up spending a large percentage of their income gambling in the false hope that they can mathematically beat the system,” Gingrich said in one of his statements on the topic.
But that statement and his decision in 2006 could actually be calculated. Adelson has been opposed to regulated online gambling since the notion was introduced and Gingrich clearly listens to his largest supporter. Adelson’s $10 million recent donation, not to mention the moneys given over the years could easily have influenced that decision in 2006. If Adelson all of a sudden came out in favor of legalized online gambling there’s a very good chance that Gingrich will follow the money there as well and announce that he has reversed his earlier decision. And the comment that he’s worried that the poor are spending too much on gambling is a no brainer. No one wants the poor to be gambling what they don’t have, casino owners included. In fact the only ones who rely on the poor to gamble their money are the state lotteries and no one is prepared to take a stand on eliminating the lottery system. So that statement is irrelevant. It was designed to win favor with the evangelical right while assuring the middle class that their rights to bet at a land based casino won’t be compromised by a Gingrich government.
Mitt Romney, on the other hand is in a more precarious situation. As a Mormon, the Church of Latter Day Saints expects Romney to toe their religious line which bans gambling, alcohol and even coffee but Romney knows that opposing regulated online poker could hurt him in the Nevada Caucus. It’s safe to say that if Romney easily wins in Nevada the race is all but over but if Gingrich takes a decisive victory the race will be back on. Senator Harry Reid effectively announced that he will throw his support behind any candidate that supports poker regulation because it will mean “jobs, jobs, jobs” to the state but Romney told the Las Vegas Sun last month that he would take a position one way or the other prior to the Nevada Caucus on February 4th and true to his word he did make a statement yesterday on the show Face to Face where he came out in opposition to gambling expansion.
“I’m not (a supporter). Gaming has a social effect on a lot of people. I don’t want to increase access to gaming and feel that we have plenty of access to gaming right now through the various casinos and establishments that exist. In some states, there are lotteries that are used to fund their schools and budgets and so forth, and I don’t think online gambl … gaming would encourage or improve that setting,” Romney told Jon Ralston on the show.
No doubt many will see that statement as courageous and he will certainly win favor with Mormons and evangelicals with that announcement but it’s also clear that for gamblers Romney is a bad choice. Romney could have deflected the question of gambling or better yet have said that gambling was a state issue and while he doesn’t support gambling, he would not stand in the way of state’s interests by introducing another federal law aimed at blocking state’s rights. But instead he came out clearly against all gambling expansion.
So that puts voters who want online poker and other gambling legalized in a tough position. They can throw away their vote on Ron Paul or they can support one of the two candidates that oppose regulated online poker. But when one looks at the candidates closely the choice is obvious. On the issue of gambling one can easily see Mitt Romney being another George W. Bush. It’s common knowledge that George W. Bush strongly opposed online gambling, so when a bill to regulate online gambling gained momentum and when it was evident that the 2006 session would end without any decision made on the issue he convinced Bill Frist to attach the UIGEA to the already guaranteed Safe Port Bill. And fortunately for Romney there are many Republican flunkies who would probably be only too happy to do the dirty work for him in that regard. Romney may not say anything to the cameras but be assured that behind the scenes Romney will do what he can to stop any gambling expansion. Newt Gingrich on the other hand sways with the wind. While that may appear to be a negative attribute, in the area of gambling it’s a blessing. Gamblers want politicians to keep an open mind and Gingrich seems to have made it evident that he will cede to states desires including Nevada if Sheldon err sorry the Nevada people, choose to support online poker and casinos.
Of course the other option for bettors is to simply ignore the Republican candidate and vote for Barack Obama again. Obama may appear to have done little for the industry to date but states have introduced legislation to legalize poker and the government has not made any serious attempts to stop them of late. Moreover, Obama never tried to block any of Barney Frank’s bills and he seems to be open to any ideas lately that will generate revenue without directly raising taxes.
So the best candidate for bettors is clearly Ron Paul, followed by Barack Obama. But of the 2 real Republican contenders it’s fairly safe to say that Newt Gingrich is the better choice for the industry.
Contact Hartley via email at Hartley[at]osga[dot]com.
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