McCain as founding father of ... the gambling industry

The Times explains that the Arizona senator doesn't just love political gambles.

Published September 28, 2008 1:19PM (EDT)

The New York Times has a major piece about John McCain's ties to legalized gambling. Seems the senator likes to throw around $100 chips at the craps table, you know, just like regular middle-class parents do every week when trying to find new, creative ways to make their mortgage payments.

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.

As a two-time chairman of the Indian Affairs Committee, Mr. McCain has done more than any other member of Congress to shape the laws governing America's casinos, helping to transform the once-sleepy Indian gambling business into a $26-billion-a-year behemoth with 423 casinos across the country. He has won praise as a champion of economic development and self-governance on reservations.

"One of the founding fathers of Indian gaming" is what Steven Light, a University of North Dakota professor and a leading Indian gambling expert, called Mr. McCain.

Look: Gambling is not a crime, and I've done my share of table gaming, from Vegas to Mississippi to Mohegan Sun in Connecticut (which is far nicer than nearby Foxwoods, though not as nice as the Borgata in Atlantic City or the Bellagio in Vegas). And, really, who can begrudge Native Americans the chance to earn billions, or criticize a Western state senator for helping Native American communities flex their economic and, thus, political power?

The problem here is that if a certain Democratic nominee were tossing around $100 chips -- especially if that nominee had left his crippled first wife for a wealthy heiress with whom he now owned at least seven homes and 13 cars -- that Democratic nominee would be labeled an out-of-touch elitist.

But not McCain. He, of course, spent five and a half years in a place where the only bet he could place each day was whether he'd be alive the following day. So he gets to live a Monte Carlo lifestyle with political-electoral impunity.

By Thomas Schaller

Thomas F. Schaller is professor of political science at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the author of "Whistling Past Dixie: How Democrats Can Win Without the South." Follow him @schaller67.

MORE FROM Thomas Schaller

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

2008 Elections John Mccain R-ariz.