The Gambler

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.