Harry Reid and his gambling friends stage a regulatory robbery

You would think Harry Reid would be a bit less brazen about pushing backdoor legislation narrowly benefitting his campaign donors.

Reid is advancing a bill to legalize online poker, which in itself is a good thing. But Politico notes that this represents a reversal for Reid, and that it serves the interests of his biggest ally in his recent bruising reelection — the casino industry that expects to win most of the online poker business.

But this isn't a story of a Democrat dropping his big-government views after cash from big business. It looks like it could be a case of regulatory robbery. Check this nugget from the Wall Street Journal:

According to the draft of the bill reviewed by The Wall Street Journal, Mr. Reid's office is considering language that would allow only existing casinos, horse tracks and slot-machine makers to operate online poker websites for the first two years after the bill passes, which could limit the ability of other companies to enter the market.

Got that? This isn't about legalizing online poker. It's about giving incumbent big businesses a government-protected monopoly in a lucrative industry.

And those business are friends of the bill's sponsor. Here are the highlights of the Politico piece.

“The House Republicans will go crazy if this is in the bill,” said one senior congressional aide, declaring it “a total, 100 percent payback” for the support Reid received from gambling interests. The aide asserted that lobbyists for the Las Vegas-based casino operator Harrah's, now known as Caesars Entertainment Corp., even helped write the legislation.

“You could call him ‘Harrah Reid’ at this point,” the aide quipped.

The company, through its employees and political action committee, contributed $83,000 to Reid’s reelection campaign, making it his fourth most generous supporter, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics. Another Vegas casino operator, MGM Resorts International, was Reid’s biggest donor, at $192,000.

The two casino companies combined to contribute at least $375,000 to Patriot Majority, an independent political group that spent more than $3.3 million attacking Angle….

And remember on Election Day, how the casino industry apparently went to the mat for Harry, dispatching casino vehicles to drive sometimes-reluctant workers to the polls? National Review got memos that included this gem: “Waking up to the defeat of Harry Reid Nov. 3 will be devastating for our industry’s future.”

It's also worth recalling that former Republican National Committee chairman Frank Fahrenkopf, the top casino lobbyist in the country, crossed party lines to fund Reid's campaign and speak in favor of him.

I wrote before the election that getting rid of Harry Reid would be perhaps the biggest blow to cronyism and corruption. Nevadans didn't vote him out. Now we get regulatory robbery in the desert.