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John McCain’s Gambling Past Rolls Craps


“Daddy needs a new pair of shoes!” and the dice cubes fly.

John McCain loves craps. It is routine for him to wager and lose $25,000 in a session as to play the “suspend the campaign and return to Washington to save the Bailout” gambit or petulantly select an unknown for vice president as the table runs hot. The problem is it’s also routine for him to become petulant, moody, churlish, and angry, flashing that fiery, scary temper when his luck runs cold.

Dice are funny. There’s nothing here but pure, dumb luck. A compulsive gambler will tell you, a hot dice run creates a sugar high bigger than any 10-year-old can imagine and… dark, erratic, moody behaviour where one tries to quickly recoup losses, digging the hole deeper when they run cold. You are completely at the mercy of two clear red silicon composite boxes with painted white numbers.

Barack Obama plays poker - very well. Poker requires cool under pressure, patience, skill, discipline, and an ability to play the man as well as your card hand. Poker players know when to hold, fold, or push their chips all-in for the highest percentage advantage. Do it successfully and increase your winning percentage dramatically. The house never beats you. You beat yourself. And luck is something to use and respect.

I’m an improving poker player as well as political contributor to WPT (World Poker Tour) Magazine. It’s where those who like to play the game go to learn strategy from top experts and pros. I was asked to handicap aspects of the Presidential race and predict the odds of online gaming again becoming legal in the US. New York Times reporters Jo Becker and Don van Natta, Jr. did an excellent job of tying John McCain and his lobbying buddies to Indian casino gaming.

Not as deeply reported is a piece of legislation that helped his casino buddies more than locations on certain reservations. John McCain and his lobbying pals eliminated their online competition, by making it illegal for any company to use the Federal Banking payment processing system to process Internet gaming transactions. It was buried deep in a shipping port security bill passed at midnight when Congress adjourned September 2006 to return home and contest mid-term elections.

The Security and Accountability For Every Port Act of 2006 (or SAFE Port Act) had language inserted as Title VIII of the Act. The Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act prohibited the transfer of funds from a US financial institution to any Internet gambling site.

What, you might ask, do online poker and Internet gambling have to do with Port Security? Nothing. It was a brilliant legislative maneuvre. They could rightfully defend it to colleagues by saying they did not make gambling online illegal, something they could never stop, so they focused on those trying to cash their winnings, so why bother?

“I’d call it the John McCain, Rick Davis, Jack Abramoff, Scott Reed Personal Enrichment Act,” said a Republican Congressman defeated for re-election that year and who asked not to be named.

“These guys were all in it up their eyeballs. It gave their Indian casino buddies free reign and made sure 95+% of all gaming occurred in their casinos,” he continued. Americans were thus forced to apply for foreign credit cards or work with international friends to transfer winnings.

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All the act did was make the IRS’ job of tracing funds more difficult. Log on any evening to Party Poker, Full Tilt Poker, or a dozen other sites and despite the language all use (except Party Poker) prohibiting US players or payments processed to US accounts, you will see major US city represented at 8 to 10% of the seats on their tables.

Congressman Barney Frank, (D-Massachusetts), Chairman of the House Banking Committee, has been unable to move a bill deleting Title VIII language because of Republican filibuster threats. Professional poker players in the USA - people who make their living playing and representing the game - testified before his committee on this unlawful restraint of their trade. The gaming lobby has kept this from coming to a vote, led by John McCain, Scott Reed, and Rick Davis.

Last week, I had a lengthy interview with Russell Means (shown here), head of the Lakota Indian Nation that withdrew from all treaties with the US Government in December of last year. He is running to become the Chief of the Sioux Tribe in Pine Ridge, South Dakota, an election where, he said, “two years ago, despite having only about 2,700 registered voters, more than 4,000 paper ballots were cast, counted, and certified (despite the tribal court ruling it was indeed a fixed election), by the Tribal Council and Bureau of Indian Affairs.”


Until now, no one has cared. Indian gaming and the control of reservations by the Bureau of Indian Affairs has kept them dirt poor, dependent, and under the control of John McCain’s friends. (More to come later this week in the full Means interview.)

So the tiniest bit of the light has crept on to the Indian gaming scene. We will throw the door open and watch the cockroaches scatter into the woodwork shadows. This story about Indian gaming and election rigging is just the tip of the exploitation iceberg. What lies under the surface is very damaging indeed.

Senator McCain, you may have, as you said in the debate the other evening, fought earmarks. Unfortunately your inner lobbyist and gambling demons are much harder to slay than saying “thanks but no thanks to that bridge to nowhere.”


It’s seven out, line in, Senator. You just lost your money to the house.

Denis Campbell

Denis Campbell is a US journalist based in the United Kingdom. He contributes to newspapers and magazines, is a BBC Radio election commentator and publishes the daily e-magazine The Vadimus Post from the Latin Quo Vadimus – where are we headed and do we know why?

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