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Online Poker Bill Looking To Hitch a Ride During Final Weeks of Lame-Duck Session

Stick out that thumb and put on your most nonthreatening expression and attire. If indications from Republican Senators Jon Kyl and Dean Heller are to be believed, poker players are now just hitchhikers looking for a ride during the final weeks of the lame-duck session of Congress.

The only problem is there are no vehicles driving by.

Kyl said in a Congressional Quarterly interview this week, and the office of Heller confirmed to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, that they believe they have the Republican votes necessary for the Reid-Kyl bill that would initiate the federal licensing and regulation of Internet poker.

Having the votes serves as an indication that the Republicans won't filibuster legislation just because online gambling is attached to it. But first Reid would need to negotiate the attachment of the proposal to must-pass legislation, and it is unclear whether he will have the opportunity to even make an attempt.

Told about Kyl's assertion during a press conference Tuesday, Reid answered with frustration: "Everyone listen to this — We suddenly have Republican votes for Internet poker two weeks before Christmas. Without being vulgar, what the hell would I put it on?"

It certainly wasn't the reaction of someone confident he will be able to get Internet poker through for his Nevada casino constituents.

"We're not terribly optimistic right now just because it seems like a lot of finger pointing going on from both sides already," said John Pappas, executive director of the Poker Players Alliance. "Once the finger pointing starts, it's usually a sign that people have given up."

The main focus of the lame-duck session is legislation to avoid the so-called fiscal cliff, when 2012's temporary tax breaks will end and spending cuts agreed to as part of the debt-ceiling deal of 2011 will go into effect for the new year unless a law to the contrary is passed first.

For legislation to be a possible vehicle for Reid to attach his online gambling bill, it would need to be a must-pass bill derived in the Senate with Reid, the Senate Majority Leader, involved in the negotiations. But Reid and the Senate have not been key in the fiscal-cliff discussions to this point. The negotiations have been between President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio).

There is Hurricane Sandy relief bill, but as a revenue bill, the negotiations also are going on in the House. There are other possibilities of bills that might go through in the next couple of weeks, but it's unclear whether any will be an opportunity for Reid. Reauthorizing The Violence Against Women Act is another one being negotiated by the House GOP with Vice President Biden. A farm bill to avoid an agricultural cliff may be a possibility. There could also be an extension of the Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act and postal service reform.

The fiscal cliff is going to take priority, and then lawmakers will see what else there's time for. It was expected that Congress would wrap up by Dec. 23, before Christmas, but with fiscal cliff talks still ongoing Capitol Hill may be occupied up to New Year's Eve.

With the Senate Majority Leader looking for a vehicle and Republican assurance that an attachment won't derail any must-pass legislation, anything can happen. Remember how we got in this mess. Then-Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist got the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act attached to the completely unrelated SAFE Ports Act on the last day of the regular session in 2006. Any bill that is a focal point in the Senate down to the last day of the lame-duck session is a possibility.

Things can fall into place very quickly, Pappas said. I think there's an opening. We're still pushing. We're in a good position to get it done. A lot of it is left out of our hands, but we're doing all we can to ensure a safe landing should there be the chance to fly a bill in there.

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