It wasn't in the draft platform. But word is a small group of puritan activists at last week's Republican National Convention in Tampa won approval of a plank that stipulates: "Millions of Americans suffer from problem or pathological gambling that can destroy families. We support the prohibition of gambling over the Internet and call for reversal of the Justice Department's decision distorting the formerly accepted meaning of the Wire Act that could open the door to Internet betting."
National candidates rarely are called upon to defend every plank in their party's platform, these days. In fact, platform planks often become a way to throw a bone to minority constituencies whose agendas are unlikely to advance any further.
But no state has been hit harder by the Great Recession than Nevada, and Internet gaming is a multibillion-dollar pie whose fruits are going to profit someone. Most business and government leaders here (including Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval and Republican U.S. Sen. Dean Heller) envision a unified federal regulatory regime - including a major role for the Silver State, with its proven history of regulatory expertise - as a major potential creator of both tax revenues and private-sector jobs.
Rep. Joe Heck, R-Nev., quips that, in living memory, "No legislation that won approval was originated in a party platform." Meanwhile, Gov. Sandoval, who addressed the convention, said he doesn't support the platform language. "We're not going to agree on everything," Gov. Sandoval said. "Online gaming is the next frontier for the industry. Our state supports online poker and will continue to work to ensure a secure online gaming environment."
Las Vegas Sands Corp. Chairman Sheldon Adelson, who has donated more than $30 million of his personal wealth to Republican causes during the current election cycle, is the most prominent gaming executive to oppose legalized Internet poker. But this is not the first time the national GOP platform has included a plank against Internet gaming - though the wording was changed this year to mention the 1961 Federal Wire Act.
The U.S. Department of Justice on Dec. 23 reversed a 50-year-old interpretation of the Wire Act, saying the law covers only sports wagering. Legal experts said the decision frees individual states to let online operators offer poker and other casino games if the play doesn't cross state lines.
In Washington, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., agreed in July on a framework for legislation to regulate online poker. Sen. Reid said Republican votes were needed to push the legislation through Congress. But a Democratic aide, speaking on condition of anonymity, said GOP support for the Reid-Kyl bill is lacking, regardless of the platform. At least 15 Republican senators are needed to support the bill. So far, the only two firm yes votes from the GOP are Sens. Kyl and Heller.
Calling for an end to drinking, gambling and dancing on Sundays may play well with certain GOP constituencies. But this is 2012. Internet gaming isn't going away, and after a little contemplation, most lawmakers likely will agree that reasonable regulation - honest games, children barred - makes sense, as does including state governments in the take.
Amid an exceptionally tight presidential race, in which both parties agree Nevada is a must-win battleground, this latest "Screw Nevada" platform plank was a serious misstep for the GOP.
Now, at the very least, its standard-bearers must tell job-hungry Nevadans whether they really mean it.