Election 2008: McCain hard to pin down

John McCain
Is McCain enough of a maverick to go against his party and allow online gambling?

This is the second of three articles examining the positions of the presidential candidates as it relates to the issue of online gambling.

Because neither of the two major party candidates, Sen. McCain and Sen. Obama, has come out either in favor of or against online gambling, we are looking at their past record, their comments and their party's position for guidance as to how pro-online gambling legislation might fare under either presidency. This article focuses on Senator John McCain.

Before we examine McCain's record, we have to look at his party's record with respect to online gambling. It is well-known that the congressmen who led the fight to push anti-gambling legislation through Congress, and who spearheaded the drive to slip the UIGEA into the SAFE Port Act to guarantee its passage, were Republicans.

There is also no dispute that it is the Republican Party platform which contains the following anti-Internet gambling language: "Millions of Americans suffer from problem or pathological gambling that can destroy families. We support the law prohibiting gambling over the Internet."

But as the recent Congressional Ratings released by the Poker Players Alliance (PPA) show, it would be wrong to think of online gambling as a Republican-versus-Democrat issue.

Although Republican Jon Kyl, John McCain's fellow Arizona senator and the father of the anti-Internet gambling initiative, received a well-earned F-minus rating, so too does Democrat Sen. Dianne Feinstein of neighboring California. In Arizona, Republican congressman Jeff Flake earned an A, while his Democratic counterpart one district over received an F.

Unfortunately, like his opponent, McCain has not stated his opinion on Internet gambling for the record in any speech or on any campaign site. So what can we glean from John McCain's record and his associations to determine how receptive his administration would be to pro-Internet gambling legislation?

Many of McCain's top advisers and donors have ties to the gambling industry, from tribal and Las Vegas land-based casinos to online gaming. PPA Chairman Alphonse D'Amato is a McCain supporter, as are PPA lobbyists Wayne Berman and John Green.

Leading McCain's campaign is Rick Davis, former lobbyist for GTech, an Internet gambling company. Also on McCain's team are Charlie Black and Brian Ballard, both former lobbyists for Internet gambling companies.

While D'Amato's endorsement is as an individual, and not on behalf of the PPA, John Pappas, executive director of the PPA, appears pleased with the opportunity D'Amato's relationship provides the association to enlighten McCain on its issues.

Pappas has been quoted as saying about D'Amato's endorsement, "He knew McCain; they served together in the Senate. He believes McCain has qualities to be a strong leader for America. I can only hope that, should McCain be elected, we'd have some insight into his thought process. If you have someone that's on the fence on your issue, then what better way to educate him than to surround him with people that understand the benefits of regulation, like D'Amato? We have a great open door to be able to engage him on the issue."

As a two-time chairman of the Indian Affairs Committee, McCain has been instrumental in the shaping of laws to spur the growth of the Indian gaming industry. "One of the founding fathers of Indian gaming" is what Steven Light, a University of North Dakota professor and a leading Indian gambling expert, was quoted as calling McCain in a recent New York Times article.

And his relationship with other sectors of the gambling industry seems strong; thus far in the presidential race, McCain has raised twice as much money from the gambling industry as Obama.

But there is no clear evidence of McCain's opinion today with respect to Internet gambling. While he voted for the SAFE Port Act which contained the UIGEA, so too did Obama and his running mate Sen. Joe Biden. The bill was included in a must-pass piece of legislation, and it is unclear how aware any of the senators who voted for the bill were of the anti-Internet gambling language buried inside.

Ten years ago, McCain voted in favor of the 1998 Internet Gambling Amendment which, if passed, would have banned placing, receiving or otherwise making a bet or wager on the Internet. His opponent's running mate, Sen. Biden, was one of just 10 senators to vote against the amendment, which ultimately failed to become law.

As a strong supporter of Indian gaming, and with the tribes' anti-online gambling stance, it is assumed McCain would not support online gambling. A 2004 article for ESPN by Peter Keating said that McCain would ban Internet gambling - "not because it's addictive, but because players typically have no way of knowing whether they are in fair games." But it is not clear if this is the writer's opinion, as the statement is not attributed to McCain.

In a July interview with Erin Neff of the Las Vegas Review-Journal, McCain gave what the writer viewed as evasive responses to her questions about his opinion on online gambling. According to her article, "First he tried to back away from his position because he hasn't been involved in it lately. Then he said it was really fellow Arizona Sen. Jon Kyl's deal."

One bright spot in his analysis of the issue, according to Neff, was that he was quoted as not blaming the economic woes of the gaming industry on Internet gambling: "The economy is what's hurting the gaming industry in Las Vegas today. It isn't sports betting or Internet gaming."

However, when pushed for his position, according to the writer, McCain punted. "Let me get back to you on it," he said. "I haven't thought about the issue."

One person who is not vague or undecided is Las Vegas lawyer Anthony Cabot, who is on record as concerned for the future of online gambling under a McCain presidency. In an interview with the Las Vegas Business Press he said bluntly, "If [Arizona Sen. John] McCain is elected, the Internet gaming ban would never be repealed." Unfortunately, the interview provides little to back up this opinion, so the voter is left wondering what effect McCain really would have.

There is no issue about McCain's general opinion on gambling - he's quoted as saying, "I am a gambling man." His penchant for craps is well documented and there is little fear of him being ideologically opposed to gambling in general.

Also, McCain has spent almost his entire political life running as a "maverick" and is known to have distanced himself from the Republican party on a number of issues, so it's hard to say whether he would go out of his way to veto a pro-online gambling bill that was sent to his desk for signature from a Democrat Congress.

The only other hint that McCain may be amendable to legislation to license and regulate online poker comes from his opinion on regulation of Indian gaming. He has supported Congress clarifying and toughening the National Indian Gaming Commission's enforcement ability at land-based casinos, saying, "If there is not sufficient regulation, corruption seeps in."

It is probably fitting to say that voting for McCain because you believe he will support online gambling is a crapshoot. At best, his record shows someone who has not led the fight against online gambling, who does not view gambling as inherently immoral, and who is supported by many who are pro-Internet gambling.

The third and final installment of the Election 2008 series will focus on which of the third-party candidates running for U.S. President would be best for online poker and gambling. It will publish on Wednesday.

Related Article: Election 2008: Will Obama help online poker?

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