Gaming issues down on the list but remain relevant for president and vice president candidates

Gaming issues down on the list but remain relevant for president and vice president candidates

  • Howard Stutz
September 16, 2020 11:30 PM

In the grand scheme of the Nov. 3 presidential election, gaming is far down on the list of issues voters will consider when choosing between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden.

Coronavirus. The environment. The economy. Social justice. A myriad of headline-grabbing concerns pushes gaming far down the register.

In a handful of states, gaming issues will help increase voter participation. Sports betting is on the ballot in Maryland, while two cities in Virginia are holding casino referendums.

Legal gaming remains a political consideration, given that it’s available in some form – casinos, racetracks, or lotteries – in every state except Hawaii and Utah. The industry’s annual nationwide economic impact topped $261 billion, before this year’s pandemic-influenced shutdown.

For instance, sports betting is currently available in 18 states and Washington D.C., yet a bill that would establish federal guidelines for the activity percolates on Capitol Hill.

The Department of Justice’s January 2019 opinion on the Federal Wire Act would revert the 1961 law to its original language and wipe out nearly a decade of gaming-technology advancements. A legal challenge is pending in the First Circuit Court of Appeals.

So it’s worth exploring the candidates’ records on gaming.

Trump’s abysmal history as a casino operator in Atlantic City has been well documented. After four bankruptcies and millions of dollars in lost investments in the late 1990s and early 2000s, his legacy on the Boardwalk is the decaying shell of the soon-to-be-demolished Trump Plaza.

This plaque commemorating Donald Trump stood at the entrance of Trump Taj Mahal in Atlantic City. The property is now Hard Rock Atlantic City

In October 2011, Trump told me in an interview for the Las Vegas Review-Journal that he supported online gaming in the U.S. He announced an agreement with a New York hedge fund to create a site with his name as the title. It never happened.

“Internet gaming makes total sense,” Trump said nine years ago. “There is so much money leaving the U.S. and the country is losing potential revenues. Other countries are taking a lot of business away from the U.S.”

The gaming history of former Vice President Joe Biden is much less controversial.

Biden, who spent 36 years in the U.S. Senate and eight years as vice president, weighed in on gaming last December following a town hall with members of Culinary Workers Local 226 in Las Vegas.

In a statement provided to CDC Gaming Reports, Biden didn’t agree with the Justice Department Wire Act opinion. According to his campaign, Biden “doesn’t support adding unnecessary restrictions to the gaming industry like the Trump Administration has done.”

Biden opposed federal sports-wagering guidelines, saying he “believes states and federal authorities should cooperate to ensure that gambling is safe, fair, and corruption-free.”

Former Vice President Jo Biden addresses the Culinary Union in Las Vegas/Photo by Howard Stutz

Biden was one of the 88 senators who voted for the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act in 1992. But he played in a key role in making sure his home state of Delaware was one of the four states exempt from the legislation. The state offered small-stakes football parlays for several years and when PASPA was overturned in May 2018, Delaware was the first state to launch sports betting following the ruling.

The two vice presidential candidates also have a history with gaming in their home states.

During his four-year tenure as Indiana governor, Vice President Mike Pence was viewed as anti-gaming. Two months after he took office, Pence proclaimed, “I do not support an expansion of gaming in Indiana.” He also touted his efforts as a congressman to outlaw Internet gaming.

Pence, however, signed Indiana tax legislation that benefited the gaming industry and allowed the passage of a bill permitting riverboat operators to move casinos onshore.

Vice President Mike Pence/Shutterstock

In 2015, however, Pence angered the state’s casino industry when he signed a controversial law where Indiana business owners could cite “religious freedom” as a legal defense if they denied services to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender customers.

Convention organizers and other tourism groups threatened to boycott Indiana, which would have harmed casinos already challenged at the time by then-new competition from Ohio and Illinois.

Once Pence saw the uproar, he asked lawmakers to fix the measure to avoid any discrimination against the LGBT community.

Kamala Harris addresses a question from Mario Sandoval as D. Taylor watches/Photo by Howard Stutz

As for Senator Kamala Harris, she had a rocky relationship with tribal casinos as California attorney general, which came up during her 2016 U.S. Senate campaign. Some of the state’s politically active and influential tribes initially held back on financial contributions due to her office’s opposition to federal applications to add acreage to their tribal lands that could be used for casinos.

However, during Harris’ presidential campaign last year, part of her agenda for tribal nations called for adding more than 500,000 acres of land into trust for federally recognized tribes.

Any resentment from the tribes with Harris from her California attorney general days has vanished. Biden’s running mate would be the first woman of color elected vice president.

“Tribes are savvy politically and will take the long view about the best person to get Joe Biden elected,” Jana McKeag, a Republican tribal gaming lobbyist and a former member of the National Indian Gaming Commission, told veteran Washington D.C. journalist Tony Batt of Gambling Compliance.

Howard Stutz is the executive editor of CDC Gaming Reports. He can be reached at Follow @howardstutz on Twitter.