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Outgoing Sen. Lott called friend of casino industry

WASHINGTON — Outgoing Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss., had productive relationships with Nevada’s senators. He also was counted as a friend to the casino industry, as Mississippi grew into a major gaming state during his years in Washington.

On the other hand, Lott was leader of the Senate’s Republicans in 2002 when the GOP caucus provided most of the votes to designate Yucca Mountain for nuclear waste burial. He was among 45 Republicans who voted for the Nevada repository, which passed 60-39.

But that episode did not appear to cause lasting damage to his friendships with Nevada interests.

On one key gaming matter, Lott along with Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., carved out a compromise that allowed Mississippi and Louisiana resorts to qualify for federal tax breaks to rebuild following Hurricane Katrina in 2005, according to Frank Fahrenkopf, president of the American Gaming Association.

He also supported the casino industry when it fought off legislation by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., to prohibit Nevada sports books from taking bets on college athletics.

Lott recognized legalized gambling as an economic development tool that helped Mississippi, Fahrenkopf said. The state ranked fourth in gross gaming revenues in 2006, not counting Indian casinos, according to the AGA.

“There became really few members who learned more about our industry than Trent.” Fahrenkopf said.

Lott’s relationship with the gaming industry also earned him criticism. In a 2005 interview with The New Yorker, former EPA administrator Carol Browner said he pushed casino development on Mississippi wetlands that might have served as a buffer during Hurricane Katrina.

A 1999 report by the Public Citizen advocacy group said Lott helped casinos fulfill their political agenda, including helping dilute subpoena powers of a federal gambling study commission in 1996.

During the 1990s, when the casino industry greatly increased its political donations and lobbying efforts, contributions to the National Republican Senatorial Committee, where Lott was a top fundraiser, grew to $1.68 million, Public Citizen said in the report.

Reid, the Senate’s majority leader, said he was sorry to see Lott leave. Despite their differing political affiliations, the two men professed admiration for each other over the years.

“Senator Lott has been a true friend, consistently reaching across the aisle to serve the interests of the people of Mississippi and to help me serve the interests of the people of Nevada,” Reid said in a statement.

Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., said Lott “will be sorely missed.”

Ensign was one of the few senators who stood by Lott when he was under fire in 2002 for comments that were attacked as racially insensitive. Lott said Mississippians were proud to have supported Thurmond when he ran for president in 1948 on a segregationist platform.

Contact Stephens Media Bureau writer Jason Green at jgreen@stephensmedia.com or (202) 783-1760. Contact Stephens Media Bureau chief Steve Tetreault at stetreault@stephensmedia.com or (202) 783-1760.

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