Denny’s Double Dealing: Hastert and the Gaming Industry. Part 2 of 3

by , posted on Friday, November 3rd, 2006 at 6:58 pm

Originally posted at Fireside 14 and Daily Kos.


Tough talk by the current crop of Republicans about the evils of gambling didn’t begin in response to the emergence of Indian casinos, or even with the arrival of internet gambling. The more principled of the social conservatives in the party had been profoundly opposed to gambling all along. When Pat Buchanan won the Republican primary in Louisiana in 1996, he did so while running on an anti-gambling platform. Later that year, a leading congressional opponent of gambling, Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA), saw his National Gambling Impact Study Commission Act signed into law. Indeed, it was the release of that commission’s report in June 1999 that proved to be the tipping point in the relations between the Republican Party and the gaming industry. Interestingly enough, however, the anti-gambling legislation that was proposed in the wake of that report didn’t make things worse between the two of them; it ended up bringing them closer together.

That same month

top Nevada casino executives met with leaders of the House of Representatives to discuss their concerns about legislation that could harm Nevada casinos. … House Speaker Dennis Hastert met with Mirage Resorts Chairman Steve Wynn; Boyd Gaming Corp. Chairman Bill Boyd and President Don Snyder; Park Place Mid-South Region President Tom Brosig; and Isle of Capri Casinos President John Gallaway. The group told Hastert that some in the gaming industry believe that there is a lack of communication between casino executives and the leadership of the Republican-controlled House, and they outlined their opposition to the college betting ban. Hastert listened but didn’t make any comments. But other Republican leaders who attended the session with Hastert made implied or direct commitments. Republicans have told casino executives that the bill to ban college sports betting is dead this Congressional session.

Hastert didn’t stay quiet for long, however. Within a couple of months he was in Las Vegas himself, betting on the come.

On Wednesday, a top Republican Congressional leader visited Las Vegas to raise money for the Republican Party and to try and assure Las Vegas casino executives that the Republican Party is not against gaming. The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Dennis Hastert, spoke publicly at a luncheon on Wednesday in Las Vegas about his party’s pro-gaming stance and said that his party will not try and ban gaming or place any restrictions on it.

The biggest problem for the gaming industry is House Republican conservatives who have been critical of gambling, notably Representative Frank Wolf of Virginia. Two years ago Wolf was instrumental in getting Congress to set up a national commission to study the negative effects of U.S. gambling.

Wolf has called gaming industry people “roaches” and has talked about imposing a 1 percent tax on gambling revenue and eliminating the income tax deduction for gambling losses.

At the fund-raiser Hastert made it clear that Wolf didn’t speak for the leadership, dismissing Wolf’s stance by saying, “He’s got freedom of speech,” according to [Frank] Fahrenkopf [President and CEO of the American Gaming Association, and former chairman of the Republican National Committee].

The trip proved to be a lucrative one. Hastert raised at least $475,000 that afternoon. Viva Las Vegas!

1999 Las Vegas fundraiser

$250,000 from Circus Circus Enterprises
$50,000 from MGM Grand
$50,000 from Park Place Entertainment
$25,000 from Boyd Gaming Corp.
$25,000 from Hollywood Casino, owners of the riverboat in Aurora
$25,000 from International Game Technology
$25,000 from Station Casinos
$5,000 from Harrah’s

In 2000, as August rolled around and the time neared for another fundraising trip, Hastert was concerned that an upcoming vote on a college betting ban in the House Judiciary Committee might complicate things with his new friends in Vegas, since they had been assured the year before that the bill was dead.

Rep. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina was the chief Republican sponsor of the bill and a member of the House Judiciary Committee, which had jurisdiction over the legislation. According to two sources who were present at a Sept. 26, 2000 meeting with editors of The Washington Times, Graham said that the GOP “leadership” had spoken to him about postponing a Committee vote on the bill that had been scheduled for July. Graham was told that Hastert had another Las Vegas fundraiser scheduled for August, during the campaign homestretch, and didn’t want to be embarrassed by a favorable Republican vote on the bill. In fact, Hastert got his wish — the committee vote was postponed.

With that potentially embarrassing scheduling matter taken care of, off Hastert went to Las Vegas again. When he returned to Capitol Hill immediately thereafter it was with at least $230,000 in campaign contributions in his pockets. Metaphorically speaking, of course.

2000 Las Vegas fundraiser

$100,000 from Mirage Resorts
$35,000 from Park Place Entertainment
$25,000 from Harrah’s
$25,000 from Mandalay Resort Group, co-owners of the riverboat in Elgin
$25,000 from Station Casinos
$15,000 from Boyd Gaming Corporation
$5,000 from Harvey’s Casino Resorts

In January 2001, Hastert placed casino industry-friendly chairmen in charge of three committees that were responsible for dealing with gaming legislation.

New chairmen of three key House committees are considered friendly to the casino industry and should make it more difficult for Congress to pass legislation adverse to gaming interests, lawmakers and analysts said Friday. …

All three of the new chairmen voted last July for a bill to ban Internet gambling. The gaming industry supported the ban, which failed to reach final passage. …

While the new chairmen will want to put their individual stamps on the committees, they also “traditionally are very beholden to the leadership,” gaming analyst Mark Edwards said.

Later that year a reported half million was raised at a DC fundraiser for casino executives, and soon after Hastert’s next Las Vegas fundraiser brought in at least $255,000.

2001 Las Vegas fundraiser

$75,000 from International Game Technology
$50,000 from Mandalay Resort Group
$50,000 from MGM Mirage
$25,000 from Park Place Entertainment
$20,000 from Station Casinos
$20,000 from Boyd Gaming Corporation
$10,000 from Harrah’s
$5,000 from Tropicana Resort and Casino

There appears to have been at least one more Vegas fundraising junket in 2002, but it’s hard to tell for sure exactly when it happened and exactly which contributions were the result of it, so I’ll simply lump the rest of Hastert’s take from gaming interests together here. (The following totals do not include any of the amounts listed above for the 1999-2001 Vegas fundraising trips.)

$247,000 from Harrah’s [107, 108, 109, 110, 111, 112, 113, 114, 115, 116, 117, 118, 119, 120, 121, 122]
$245,000 from MGM Mirage [123, 124, 125, 126]
$77,400 from the American Gaming Association [127, 128, 129, 130, 131, 132, 133]
$50,000 from Hollywood Casino Corporation [134, 135]
$43,000 from Station Casinos [136, 137, 138, 139, 140, 141, 142, 143, 144]
$28,000 from Mandalay Resort Group [145, 146]
$20,000 from Boyd Gaming Corporation [147, 148]
$15,000 from Caesars Entertainment [149]
$14,500 from Starwood Hotels & Resorts (Alladin Casino) [150, 151]
$6,000 from International Game Technology [152, 153]
$6,000 from the Isle of Capri Casinos, which operates the riverboats just outside of Hastert’s district in Davenport and Bettendorf, IA [154, 155, 156, 157]
$5,000 from the Argosy Gambling Company, which operates the riverboat in Alton, IL [158]
$2,000 from Tropicana Resort and Casino [159]

Oh, and Denny has done well at the track, too. He has received $131,000 from the National Thoroughbred Racing Association [160, 161, 162, 163, 164, 165, 166, 167], and $75,100 from Duchossois Industries and the Duchossois family [168, 169, 170, 171, 172, 173, 174, 175, 176, 177, 178, 179, 180, 181, 182, 183, 184, 185, 186, 187, 188, 189, 190, 191, 192, 193, 194, 195]. In the later case, it’s only fair to note Duchossois Industries is a rather diversified operation, with many interests in addition to the gaming industry, and the Duchossois family have been such loyal supporters of the Republican Party that Hastert’s stand on gaming may well be but one of many issues of interest to them. Perhaps not even the most important one. That said, Arlington Park Racetrack in suburban Chicago has for some time been a Duchossois-run operation. Duchossois money is gaming money, too. And anti-gaming legislation never makes it through the House without an exemption being written in for horse racing.


Hastert, it would seem, had hit the jackpot by making friendly with the gaming industry. But when a Center for Responsive Politics study revealed in 2003 that the casinos were still giving more money to the Democrats than they were to the Republicans, Denny wasn’t happy. “‘The speaker is dismayed and disappointed that the gaming industry continues to place their bets on the wrong team,’ said Pete Jeffries, Hastert’s communications director.”

Or consider the following, which dates back to 1999, when Hastert was still new to the games Speakers play nowadays, and no doubt still testing the limits of the clout that had been dropped into his lap.

Wynn has held several fundraisers for House Democratic Leader Richard Gephardt of Missouri, who hopes to wrest control of the Speaker’s chair from Hastert in 2000, and has donated $250,000 to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. But Hastert suggested that Wynn, Lanni and their respective companies would be better off keeping the Republicans in power.

How different is that from Tom DeLay’s “suggestions” to the trade associations and lobbying firms of K Street that they had better start hiring Republicans, and redistributing their campaign contributions to the Republican side of the aisle as well, if they expected the Republicans in power to give them a hearing? A little different, perhaps, but not much.

Hastert, after all, had a job to do. As Speaker, he says in his autobiography

my job is to run the House and make sure we hold the House. So I have two functions. One is governmental, the other political. The governmental function is to run the House, move the legislation through, make sure the chairmen and the committees are all operating smoothly. … The other function is political. I have to recruit the best possible candidates for Congress and make sure they have the financial and other resources they need to run or, if they’re already in Congress, to make sure they have enough to stave off potential challengers. That’s the part of my job that keeps me on the road so much. (Denny Hastert, Speaker: Lessons from Forty Years in Coaching and Politics, Washington, DC: Regnery Publishing, 2004, pp. 181-82)

On the road raising money. Back inside the Beltway raising money. At gala dinners, at receptions, at luncheons raising money. Sometimes the money comes in by the bucketfull, like those trips to Vegas. Sometimes it’s more like that one afternoon at Jack’s place, arriving in nice, neat bundles.

On June 3, 2003 a fundraiser is held at Abramoff’s restaurant, Signatures, for Hastert’s Keep Our Majority PAC.

Seven days later, Hastert wrote Norton urging her to reject the Jena tribe of Choctaw Indians’ request for a new casino. Hastert’s three top House deputies also signed the letter.

Approving the Jena application or others like it would “run counter to congressional intent,” Hastert’s June 10, 2003, letter warned Norton.

It was exactly what Abramoff’s tribal clients wanted. The tribes, including the Louisiana Coushattas and Mississippi Choctaw, were trying to block the Jena’s gambling hall for fear it would undercut business at their own casinos.

And six days after that, on June 16th, at least $26,250 in campaign contributions from Abramoff, his associates, and his clients are received by Hastert’s PAC.

$2,500, Jack Abramoff, Washington DC, Greenberg Traurig
$1,000, Shawn M. Vasell, Arlington, VA, Greenberg Traurig
$1,000, Neil Volz, Washington, DC, Greenberg Traurig
$500, Todd A. Boulanger, Washington, DC, Greenberg Traurig
$500, Duane R. Gibson, Washington, DC, Greenberg Traurig
$500, Kevin A. Ring, Washington, DC, Greenberg Traurig
$250, Padgett R. Wilson, Alexandria, VA, Greenberg, Traurig

$5,000, Mashanbucket Pequot Tribal Nation, Mashanbucket, CT
$5,000, Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe, Mt. Pleasant, MI
$5,000, Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians, Peshawbestown, MI
$5,000, Chitimacha Tribe of Louisiana, Charenton, LA

Quid pro quo? Not according to Hastert. When this interesting series of events finally saw the light of day, he would claim that it was nothing more than a “coincidence.”

And yet,

Many lobbyists seek Hastert’s signature on letters seeking to change the policies of regulatory agencies. But a GOP lobbyist said [Hastert’s Chief Counsel, Ted] Van Der Meid has a firm policy of not intervening on these matters, saying, “Ted won’t let the Speaker do that.”

Similarly, when the fact was uncovered that Hastert’s PAC hadn’t ever actually gotten around to paying for the fundraiser, meaning that it had effectively been comped by Abramoff, Hastert’s people would claim that their failure to pay for the in-kind expenses incurred had been a mere “oversight.”

And here I had been thinking all this time that Hastert didn’t know what oversight meant.

To go to Part 1, click here | To go to Part 3, click here


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