Harry Reid Takes Gambling Money, Protects Gambling Interests

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D.-Nev.) sent a letter to Interior Secretary Gale Norton on March 5, 2002, asking her to veto an agreement between the state of Louisiana and the Jena tribe of Choctaw Indians that would have allowed the tribe to open a casino in Louisiana.

The day after Reid sent the letter, according to the Associated Press, Louisiana’s Coushatta tribe, which already operated a casino, and which was a client of lobbyist Jack Abramoff, but which did not want competition from the Jena tribe, sent a $5,000 contribution to Reid’s tax-exempt Searchlight Leadership Fund. A second tribe represented by Abramoff, the AP reported, also sent Reid’s group a $5,000 contribution. Ultimately, according to the AP, Reid collected more than $66,000 in Abramoff-related contributions.

Now, Reid is asking the Senate Ethics Committee to review the matter and clear him of any impropriety, insisting that he intervened to stop the Jena tribe’s Louisiana casino to protect the interests of casinos in his home state of Nevada and to urge the Interior Secretary to apply Reid’s strict interpretation of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988 (IGRA). Reid sponsored IGRA, which sought to limit the development of Indian gaming around the country and to disallow such gaming, with few exceptions, on land not already part of an Indian reservation as of 1988.

According to an analysis of Federal Election Commission reports by, (See chart above.) Reid, between 1989-2005, received more than a million dollars in contributions from PACs and individuals connected to the gambling industry. The analysis indicates that Reid received $158,450 linked to MGM Mirage, a company that not only operates casinos in Nevada, but also runs the Beau Rivage casino in Biloxi, Miss., which might have been a nearby competitor to the Louisiana casino contemplated by the Jena tribe. Contributions linked to MGM Mirage comprised the single largest bloc of contributions to Reid.

The second largest bloc came from PACs and individuals linked to Mandalay Resort Group, a casino-operating company that merged with MGM Mirage last year. Mandalay operated the Gold Strike casino in Tunica, Miss.

In a December 14 letter to the Ethics Committee co-signed by Sen. John Ensign (R.-Nev.), who also co-signed the 2002 letter to Norton, Reid said: “In urging rejection of the Jena Compact, we sought to defend the goals of the IGRA and protect the economic interests of our constituents.”

“The purpose of our communication with the Interior Department with respect to the Jena Compact was to defend the interests of Nevada businesses by insisting that their would-be competitors abide by federal law, which largely prohibits gaming outside of historical reservations,” wrote Reid and Ensign. “As senators from the state with the largest non-tribal gaming industry in the nation, we have long opposed the growth of off-reservation tribal gaming throughout the United States.”

The 2002 letter to Norton was not the only time Reid used his political clout in a way that might have benefited MGM’s gambling interests. In 2002, Michigan then-Gov. John Engler (R.) approved a plan to allow the Bay Mills Indian Community to swap land in the upper peninsula of Michigan for land in Port Huron, an hour from Detroit, so that the tribe could open a casino in Port Huron.  The swap of Indian land, however, required congressional approval, and Reid worked against it.

“Allowing a tribe to settle a land claim and receive … land hundreds of miles from the reservation, for the express purpose of establishing a gaming facility sets, I believe, a very, very dangerous precedent,” Reid said at that time on the Senate floor.

MGM recently began construction of a new $600-million hotel and casino in Detroit to replace its existing MGM Grand Detroit Casino.

Reid aides did not return calls asking for Reid’s current position on where, when, and by whom he supports the establishment of casinos. In their letter to the Senate Ethics Committee, Reid and Ensign said of their effort to stop the Jena tribe: “In sum, our communications with the Interior Department in this instance was entirely appropriate and consistent with our duties as Nevada senators.” analyzed Federal Election Commission reports from 1989-2005 and discovered which corporations’ PACs, owners, employees and family members of owners and employees gave the most in campaign contributions to Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D.-Nev.). Here are the top 12.

 1   MGM Mirage   $158,450 
 2  Mandalay Resort Group  $130,100
 3  Harrah’s Entertainment  $93,100
 4  Simmons Cooper LLC  $73,400
 5  Lionel, Sawyer & Collins  $72,516
 6  Sierra Nevada Corp.  $59,300
 7  Newmont Mining  $55,808
 8  Sierra Health Services  $54,250
 9  Station Casinos  $52,250
 10  Citigroup Inc.  $41,750
 11  Park Place Entertainment  $40,850
 12  Boyd Gaming  $39,549