Rep. Walt Minnick’s support for a plan to license American companies to run online gambling websites legally is receiving condemnation from Raul Labrador, his challenger in the November general election. Minnick’s staff said the plan would reduce the government’s role as a nanny state, while Labrador said expanding gambling would prove disastrous for families.
The legislation, approved by a House panel last week, would allow online gambling companies based in the U.S. to register with the Treasury Department. It would set up limits on who could legally play games like online poker and prevent players from making bets with credit cards. Users of the websites would instead use debit cards or websites like PayPal to bankroll their wagers. A connected piece of legislation, not yet approved by the House panel, would tax the gambling operations’ profits.
Minnick is one of 70 co-sponsors of the legislation sponsored by Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass. Five of the co-sponsors are Republicans, while 65 are Democrats.
Gambling is illegal in Idaho, except for the state lottery, wagering on horse and racing, and at Indian casinos in the state.
In its current form, the plan would give the Idaho Legislature and lawmakers in other states the chance to opt out of expansion of legalized online gambling. Labrador, a Republican state representative from Eagle, claims that safeguard isn’t enough, referring to a 2007 letter from more than 40 state attorneys general, including Idaho’s Lawrence Wasden, which said the plan would undermine states’ power to prohibit gambling.
Minnick’s campaign manager, John Foster, said current laws curbing gambling on the Internet aren’t working. Popular websites such as PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker operate in the U.S. under gambling licenses in the United Kingdom. “By doing away with the law that creates these artificial restrictions, you’re bringing it out into the open and are able to address it in a comprehensive way that makes sense,” Foster said.
Labrador said spreading gambling legally in America would also spread the social ills associated with big losses from bad bets. “Mr. Minnick’s plan to stimulate gambling and then tax it is just too dangerous a scheme and further erodes our Constitution and social well-being,” Labrador said in a news release. Several religious organizations, including Focus on the Family and the Christian Coalition, also oppose the plan.
“It’s not about creating a new tax—it’s about enforcing the law,” Foster said.
Labrador said Minnick’s support for the plan links him with Frank and other Democrats, though Foster said it aligns him with Texas Republican Rep. Ron Paul, who also supports the change to online gaming laws. In a written statement on the plan, Paul called gambling a dumb waste of money, but said Americans should be free to do with their money as they see fit and that the federal government shouldn’t act as a nanny.
Labrador’s spokeswoman, China Gum, called Foster’s reference to Paul and other Republicans supporting the plan a gimmick, saying that Democrats, not Republicans, are the main backers of the legislation.
Foster called Labrador’s stance on gambling hypocritical, since he voted yes on a plan in the Idaho Legislature earlier this year allowing law enforcement officers to use their discretion in prosecuting illegal gambling operations. That plan passed the Legislature overwhelmingly and was signed into law by Gov. Butch Otter.
“The fact that he continues to make these kinds of attacks raises troubling questions about his character,” Foster said about Labrador.
Gum discarded Foster’s complaint. “This is why Walt Minnick has decided to team up with Barney Frank and 70 other liberals in Congress, because Raul Labrador supported a piece of legislation in the Idaho Legislature?” she asked. The plan is backed by 65 Democrats, including Minnick, who signed on as a co-sponsor last year, well before Labrador’s vote in this year’s legislative session.
The plan to regulate online gambling faces a full vote in the U.S. House and needs to be approved by the U.S. Senate, as well. “There are still lots of opportunities to tweak this bill and make it better,” Foster said.