Harry Reid May Be Pushing Bill to Legalize (Some) Online Poker

Nevada Senator Harry Reid AP Photo

According to the Wall Street Journal, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's staff has been circulating a bill that would legalize online poker - but only "existing casinos, horse tracks and slot-machine makers" would be able to do so for the first two years after passage.

Reid, a Democrat, hails from Nevada. Las Vegas casinos - which are pushing the bill - have been major donors to his campaigns over the years.

Reid's office is not commenting on the report.

Two days ago, three Republicans sent a letter to Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell calling on them not to pass online poker legislation in the current Congress, as the Journal notes.

The letter said lawmakers "should not take advantage of the young, the weak and the vulnerable in the name of new revenues to cover more government spending."

It's hard to imagine Congress finding time for an online poker bill in light of the crowded lame-duck agenda for the Senate, which includes dealing with the Bush-era tax cuts, a decision on repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," a possible extension of unemployment benefits, a potential vote on the DREAM Act, and funding the government.

Reid could potentially slip the legalization measure into another bill, however, something that "people familiar with the discussions" reportedly say is on the table.

Online poker is a major business in the United States, but the websites where players go to gamble are based offshore thanks to a 2006 law.

The draft version of the bill obtained by the Journal would overturn that bill and give established casinos a significant advantage in the potentially-lucrative domestic online poker business by barring competition from upstarts for two years. It would also hand oversight to the states as opposed to the federal government, which is the preference of casino interests.

As the newspaper notes, one potential beneficiary of the law would be Las Vegas-based Caesars Entertainment Corp. (formerly Harrah's Entertainment Inc.), which owns the "World Series of Poker" brand and is looking to take further advantage of it.

The House Financial Services Committee passed a similar measure in July, but has not come for a vote in the full House.

Brian Montopoli is senior political reporter for CBSNews.com. You can read more of his posts here. Follow Hotsheet on Facebook and Twitter.