A rising Republican star has put his weight behind legislation from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) that would legalize online poker.
In a letter to congressional leaders dated Thursday, Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval (R) said he offers his “full support” to efforts by Reid and Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) to craft federal legislation on Internet gaming.
“As Congress considers legislation to address the uncertainty surrounding Internet gaming, I offer my full support to the efforts by Sens. Harry Reid and John Kyl [sic] to draft a federal bill that strikes a balance between consumer protection and maintaining state authority,” Sandoval wrote.
Sandoval noted that he has experience in overseeing gambling as a former Nevada Gaming Commission chairman, and said state rights can be preserved under federal legislation.
“The Reid-Kyl approach would accomplish these essential objectives while introducing strong consumer protections into a space where none currently exist.”
The bill from Reid and Kyl would ban all forms of online gaming except for Internet poker and would allow states to opt into a federal regulatory regime.
The legislative push comes as several states move forward on legalizing some forms of online gambling following a 2011 Justice Department opinion that found that the Wire Act only prohibits online gambling on sports, but not other games of chance.
State legislatures and governors have expressed concerns about the Reid-Kyl bill. Lotteries, which bring in considerable sums of money for state government programs across the country, are also frightened by new federal regulations for gambling.
The National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) said the online poker bill is not needed because states are capable of regulating online gaming.
"State authority and consumer protection with respect to online gaming are not mutually exclusive. With gaming, states have long demonstrated that they are capable of protecting consumers. This bill is aiming to fix a problem that simply doesn’t exist," said James Ward, a committee director for the NCSL.
Gaming interests back the bill, but critics contend it’s a giveaway to Nevada’s casino industry.
Sandoval’s support for the legislation could help Reid and Kyl push back against the states' rights argument when lawmakers return to work after the election. The Latino governor is widely viewed as an up-and-comer in the GOP, and was talked about as a potential vice presidential pick for Mitt Romney.
Reid is expected to try to move the poker bill during Congress’s lame-duck session.