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Harry Reid, Dean Heller Quarrel Over Online Gambling

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid on Tuesday criticized his fellow Nevada Senator for failing to gather the Republican votes necessary to move an online poker bill.

But for now, it's gloves off, and Republicans contend that Reid is engaging in a bait-and-switch.

In a letter sent Monday to Reid, Heller said the House should move first in response to the Justice Department action.

"I am concerned with attempts to impose a deadline ... providing little if any time to reconfirm the necessary support among my conference," Heller wrote.

Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) concurred with Heller's letter, saying those involved in the gaming issue want the House to originate a measure to overturn the controversial legal opinion.

"The fact is that through a series of conversations we've had, those of us who were working on this thought that the best approach would be to have legislation start in the House to deal with the attorney general's changing of the interpretation of the Wire Act," Kyl said. "Have the Senate then adopt the legislation, and ?- if it be its will - to add the poker exemption and then send the bill back to the House for its final approval and then on to the president."

Supporters of legislative action say the revised interpretation could open the floodgates to the online gambling business. Reid, Heller and many gaming interests want to restrict the operation to only Web poker games. Under the process endorsed by Heller and Kyl, the Senate would add a poker exception to a House bill that would bar all online gaming.

A Democratic aide said Reid's office never anticipated the House would go first. Rather, Reid would use his prerogatives as Majority Leader to find a moving vehicle, the aide said. Reid would have considered attaching the language to an appropriations bill or to the cybersecurity bill that ultimately stalled before the August recess.

Kyl said Tuesday that he raised questions about the Senate moving first on poker, and in any event, Reid's ability to have delivered a measure that would reach President Barack Obama's desk seems in doubt.

The underlying cybersecurity measure became mired in a dispute between Democrats and many Republicans, and the Senate passed none of the 12 regular appropriation bills for fiscal 2013.

That inability to move forward on appropriations has led to the continuing resolution to fund the government for the next six months released Monday evening by the House Appropriations Committee. It looks to be the only must-pass bill before the November elections, and there has been no indication that anyone will try to attach provisions related to the Wire Act.

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