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Tilting at Windmills

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September 28, 2008

THE GAMBLER.... We talked the other day about John McCain's affinity for gambling -- literally with games of chance, and figuratively with taking enormous risks -- to the point that even some Republicans concede that McCain is "on the borderline of what is acceptable."

But in a striking and well-researched piece, the New York Times' Jo Becker and Don Van Natta report today on the extent of McCain's gambling interests and gambling ties.

Senator John McCain was on a roll. In a room reserved for high-stakes gamblers at the Foxwoods Resort Casino in Connecticut, he tossed $100 chips around a hot craps table. When the marathon session ended around 2:30 a.m., the Arizona senator and his entourage emerged with thousands of dollars in winnings.

A lifelong gambler, Mr. McCain takes risks, both on and off the craps table. He was throwing dice that night not long after his failed 2000 presidential bid, in which he was skewered by the Republican Party's evangelical base, opponents of gambling. Mr. McCain was betting at a casino he oversaw as a member of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, and he was doing so with the lobbyist who represents that casino, according to three associates of Mr. McCain.

The visit had been arranged by the lobbyist, Scott Reed, who works for the Mashantucket Pequot, a tribe that has contributed heavily to Mr. McCain's campaigns and built Foxwoods into the world's second-largest casino. Joining them was Rick Davis, Mr. McCain's current campaign manager. Their night of good fortune epitomized not just Mr. McCain's affection for gambling, but also the close relationship he has built with the gambling industry and its lobbyists during his 25-year career in Congress.

That appears to be an understatement. McCain has more than 40 top advisers and fundraisers who have lobbied or worked for gambling interests. Several of McCain's closest personal friends are casino executives. He receives more money from the gambling industry than almost any member of Congress, especially those outside Nevada and New Jersey. And he loves heading to casinos, traveling to Las Vegas regularly for "weekend betting marathons," overruling aides who've asked him to consider the appearances -- not only of a man who gambles too much, but also of a senator who has enormous oversight responsibilities of the gaming industry.

For that matter, McCain was willing to help lead an investigation of Jack Abramoff, the disgraced Republican lobbyist who represented Indian gambling interests, but the details of McCain's involvement sound far from noble.

[I]nterviews and records show that lobbyists and political operatives in Mr. McCain's inner circle played a behind-the-scenes role in bringing Mr. Abramoff's misdeeds to Mr. McCain's attention -- and then cashed in on the resulting investigation. The senator's longtime chief political strategist, for example, was paid $100,000 over four months as a consultant to one tribe caught up in the inquiry, records show. [...]

For McCain-connected lobbyists who were rivals of Mr. Abramoff, the scandal presented a chance to crush a competitor. For senior McCain advisers, the inquiry allowed them to collect fees from the very Indians that Mr. Abramoff had ripped off. And the investigation enabled Mr. McCain to confront political enemies who helped defeat him in his 2000 presidential run while polishing his maverick image.

It's quite a story. Read the whole thing.

Steve Benen 8:30 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (25)

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Comments

Here's his next gamble:

Arranges for Sarah Palin to step down for 'family reasons';

Brings Joe Lieberman into the fold as his VP to replace Sarah, just before the debate with Joe Biden.

You heard it here first.

Posted by: JoeKool on September 28, 2008 at 9:03 AM | PERMALINK

John McCain likes to gamble?

John McCain is friends with Las Vegas Casino owners?

I'm sure everything is above board, because, you know, the Las Vegas Casino owners aren't CORRUPT or anything.


Posted by: Monkey on September 28, 2008 at 9:06 AM | PERMALINK

This is a pretty complicated story, especially after reading the whole NYT article, but a couple questions stick out for me.

1) How is it that the Washington Post stopped reporting, or limited their reporting to the Abramoff side of the equation?

2) Several of the US Attorneys fired in Dec '06 were on a committee dealing with Indian Affairs. What issues were they dealing with and do the tie in with either the Abramoff or McCain issues?

3) Was Bush just sitting on the sidelines, letting his capos fight this war unguided? It would seem that his Justice Department was bending over backwards to favor Abramoff, but there was a lot of McCain hugging going on, too.

Posted by: Danp on September 28, 2008 at 9:17 AM | PERMALINK

Danp - Very interesting point re US Attorney firings.

Posted by: colonpowwow on September 28, 2008 at 9:21 AM | PERMALINK

Holy crap.

I think this is the sort of story that is complicated, but people don't need to understand the whole thing. The image of McCain gambling with gambling lobbyists at a casino could actually be enough at this point.

Posted by: The Answer Is Green on September 28, 2008 at 9:38 AM | PERMALINK

hmm McCain gambling with gambling lobbyistsat a casino and winning - bribery anyone?

stevie

Posted by: stevie on September 28, 2008 at 9:47 AM | PERMALINK

If you're a gambler, casino executives are not your friends. Nothing is quite so damning about his judgment than the fact that he doesn't apparently realise this.

Posted by: Alex on September 28, 2008 at 10:14 AM | PERMALINK

There is a way to play casino craps that makes it very close to a fair game (technically, a game in which each player has a 50-50 chance of winning) but it is almost completely brainless in that there are no decisions to be made; you do the same thing each time. Here is how it works:

You bet the on the line line and if a point is established (4,5,6,8,9,or 10) you make an "odds" bet, usually matching or doubling your line bet by stacking chips behind your line bet, depending on the house rules. If you lose (roll 7 before you make your point) you lose both bets, but if you win you get paid true odds on the odds bet. You have a .493 probability of winning the line bet, and that edge is what you pay the house for the privilege of playing. But if, for example, you win on 4, you are paid 2-1 on the odds bet, which is the proper payoff since the chances are 2-1 against your making the 4 before the 7 comes up. This is a fair game.

This is the optimum strategy, but obviously it is dull...a machine could do it. There are other, more exciting ways to play that are truly gambling. In the center of the table, there are a number of slots where you can bet on a single throw, e.g. 11. The odds against making 11 on a single throw are 17-1 against you (there are only two ways to make 11 out of the 36 possible ways of throwing two 6-sided dice), but if you win, you are paid only 15-1. 12 or 2 are 35-1 against but pay 30-1 etc. This can be exciting, especially if the table is crowded with players a little drunk and ready to cheer or groan on each roll play. But it is a sure way to lose over the not-so-long run.

John McCain, so I understand, likes to play that way. If you can afford to drop 10's of K's of bucks of an evening, that's OK, I suppose. You are paying for a big adrenaline rush, not unlike, I guess, piloting a bomber through hostile AA fire. But it says something about character and that is not good in a would-be president.

I also understand that Barack Obama is a very good poker player, and while I am not, I think I get what sort of character is required to be one: Cool in adversity, patient, observant,with long-term stamina, and above all alert to what the other players are thinking. Sounds good for a very high-pressure job. (Not to be too one-sided, Richard Nixon was a good poker player too --- he financed his first campaign with winnings from his war years in the Navy --- but he tried to bluff a bad hand in Watergate and he lost everything.)

What sort of person do we want to make the decisions in these times, a plunger or a calculating plodder? I think the question answers itself.

Posted by: jrosen on September 28, 2008 at 10:31 AM | PERMALINK

Alex, that's a good point, and it mirrors the point about McCain that's been made in other analysis (by Dengre, at Daily Kos), pointing out that McCain soft-pedaled aspects of the Abramoff investigation to score points with the Bush Administration.

There's something very, very rotten here...

Posted by: Chris on September 28, 2008 at 10:32 AM | PERMALINK

Just a personal note: When I couldn't afford to lose, craps was very exciting. More recently (in Foxwoods and San Juan PR) I found that when I could afford to drop a few hundred once in a while, it became deadly dull.

Posted by: jrosen on September 28, 2008 at 10:35 AM | PERMALINK

"The image of McCain gambling with gambling lobbyists at a casino could actually be enough at this point."

How's this?

"When the capital development of a country becomes the by-product of the activities of a casino, the job is likely to be ill-done,." -John Maynard Keynes.

Posted by: MissMudd on September 28, 2008 at 11:17 AM | PERMALINK

Remember McCain was forced to stay in Asia for years. Gambling is very popular in Asian cultures, therefore it is not his fault that a love for gambling rubbed off on him.

Posted by: dj on September 28, 2008 at 11:19 AM | PERMALINK

MissMudd - Good quote. And you (or Keynes) could just as easily be talking about the banking disaster.

Posted by: Danp on September 28, 2008 at 11:27 AM | PERMALINK

When you talk about gambling, it reminds me of what the rich have done with the trillions we've given them over the last thirty years. They've frittered half the money away in the world's greatest gambling casino - Wall Street. The best and the brightest have been busy developing more and more complex, derivative-like financial toys for the rich to play around with, rather than investing in real and tangible industries for the 21st century, like renewable and alternative energy.

Read Thomas Friedman's column today in the NYT.

What we really ought to do is reinstate a reasonable marginal tax rate on millionaires so we can put the money to work rebuilding the country. They've proven themselves completely irresponsible by pissing all that money away on Wall Street, hoping to become even richer.

Posted by: hark on September 28, 2008 at 11:52 AM | PERMALINK

Yes the article is complicated.
And yes it tries to do too much.

The technical soul of the piece is threefold:

1) McCain has been influenced by lobbyists and friends to gerrymander gambling rules and legislation. Even if such hanky-panky required the destruction of a "newly minted" tribe...

2) That McCain basically outed Abramoff out of retribution. Only to have his own lobbyists take monetary advantage of tribes.

3) McCain's love of gambling puts him in direct opposition to some of his own statements.

Out of this triad I favor more of (3).
That's the character issue that ultimately matters.

I was expecting the article to come full circle and return to John at the gambling tables. I am not sure why it did not. Bad editing? At any rate: As a taxpayer-citizen I definitely want to know if John plans on gambling while he is President. Will he holiday in Las Vegas? Someone needs to ask him...

Posted by: koreyel on September 28, 2008 at 11:53 AM | PERMALINK

I wonder if his tax returns show any gambling winnings or losses.

Posted by: Th on September 28, 2008 at 12:34 PM | PERMALINK

Reminds me of the scene in Casablanca where Renault gets his payoff on the way out the door.

I wonder just how often McCain "wins" at this casino.

Posted by: In what respect, Charlie? on September 28, 2008 at 2:28 PM | PERMALINK

So, the whole thing can be reduced to a single question: are we, as a country, willing to take a gamble on a gambler? And an obsessive one, at that, sounds like.

Koreyel, @11:53,
I wouldn't expect him to vacation in Las Vegas -- he might not want to be seen there openly. I'd expect him to redecorate a part of the White House as a casino.

Posted by: exlibra on September 28, 2008 at 3:42 PM | PERMALINK

Obama is a poker player. McCain likes to shoot craps. Who would you rather have their finger on the red button?

Posted by: fafner1 on September 28, 2008 at 4:24 PM | PERMALINK

You know if you put this NY Times story and McCain's love of gambling together with (a) his ties to many lobbyists (who have represented the gambling industry, (b) the fact that Mrs. McCain's alcohol fortune has documented connections to organized crime and boot-legging, (c) the Keating 5 corruption and its ties to organized crime, and (d) McCain's birthday greeting to Joe Bonanno in 1995, there would seem to be a significant story here.

Both Keating and the Hensley liquor business (Mrs. McCain) have independent links to the Lansky Crime family of the 1970s.

Posted by: Archaeologist on September 28, 2008 at 6:52 PM | PERMALINK

You know if you put this NY Times story and McCain's love of gambling together with (a) his ties to many lobbyists (who have represented the gambling industry, (b) the fact that Mrs. McCain's alcohol fortune has documented connections to organized crime and boot-legging, (c) the Keating 5 corruption and its ties to organized crime, and (d) McCain's birthday greeting to Joe Bonanno in 1995, there would seem to be a significant story here.

Both Keating and the Hensley liquor business (Mrs. McCain) have independent links to the Lansky Crime family of the 1970s.

Posted by: Archaeologist on September 28, 2008 at 6:53 PM | PERMALINK

Meanwhile back at the horse track, Kentucky is the new China...

Kentucky attempts to seize gambling site domains

Posted by: MissMudd on September 28, 2008 at 6:59 PM | PERMALINK

Keep all the bad news about McCain coming. Please, Kevin and Steve, get on the talk shows and spill it forth.
McCain likely fits the pathology--neurotic, undisciplined, exhibiting marked mood swings, anxious and preoccupied, poorly focused, prone to impulsivity, anti-social traits, impaired coping skills.
Seems we saw a lot of that this week--his ridiculously impulsive drop-everything- and- parachute- into- D.C. behaviors.
His anti-social behaviors at the debate, where he clearly would not look at Barack Obama.
The history of anger management problems and difficulties with interpersonal relationships.
He doesn't even know what to do with his hands, he is so self-focused and self-involved.
The denial is evident, especially with how easy it is for him to tell a lie.

Please--not another afflicted president.
Wake up, America.


Posted by: consider wisely always on September 28, 2008 at 9:38 PM | PERMALINK

The chart of gaming-industry McCain backers includes Sheldon Adelson (the Third), whose "Vets for Freedom" ads are newshour wallpaper in Michigan.
(LOOK! David Blaine!)

Posted by: Steve Paradis on September 28, 2008 at 9:59 PM | PERMALINK

The article is complicated. And yes it tries to do too much.

Posted by: gambling on September 29, 2008 at 4:01 AM | PERMALINK




 

 

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