11/17/2006 1:00AM

Political climate improves for gaming


The midterm elections less than two weeks ago showed that American voters were very unhappy, about a lot of things. The Democrats regained control of the Senate and the House of Representatives. Thus, the political consensus that Republican President Bush has enjoyed for the past six years is over.

While this is not a political newspaper, or column for that matter, it's naive to believe that politics bears no influence over the gaming industry. There is as much state and federal regulation over gaming as any industry imaginable.

The changes in Washington and in the 50 statehouses around the country are nearly all positive for gaming. There are far too many to outline here. But the most important change comes just a level below the president of the United States.

Sen. Harry Reid, a Democrat from Nevada, has become the new Senate majority leader. Next to President Bush, Reid now becomes the most influential politician in Washington.

You would have to be in a coma for the last 70 years to not know what gaming has meant to the growth of Nevada. So if there is one position that Reid stands for, it's pro-gaming.

I would surmise that you will not see any time soon a resurrection of the bill to ban college betting. That was a pet proposal of Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona), who will have a full plate as he launches his 2008 presidential bid. McCain is wise enough to know he no longer has the political or public support to pass it.

Reid was a vocal opponent of the Internet Gambling Enforcement Act, HR 4411, which was passed in July 2006. The goal of the bill was to ban Internet gaming by Americans, but Reid has long protested that a ban is unenforceable.

While he has publicly spoken out against Internet gaming, Reid has advocated study and research. It is logical to assume that fact-finding could eventually lead to the regulation and taxation of Internet gaming, which is a multibillion-dollar industry.

It would make sense that a transparent, regulated industry, taxed to the benefit the general public, is a better stance than trying to enforce prohibition. Back in the late 1970's, Reid was chairman of the Nevada Gaming Commission and he helped clean up the gaming industry in Nevada. So he knows what's at stake and the benefits that can accrue.

By the way, Sen. Jim Leach (R-Iowa), the author of HR 4411, was upset by Democratic underdog Dave Loebsack. Leach had held his seat for 30 years. The Internet bill probably didn't lose him the election, but it sends a message when you act in a way that a majority of Americans don't agree with.

Richard Eng is the turf editor for the Las Vegas Review-Journal and author of "Betting on Horse Racing for Dummies."