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Is Anti-Online Gambling Lobbyist George Pataki Running for President?

The Republican primary for the party’s 2016 presidential nomination is expected to produce a very crowded, diverse field of candidates. Everyone from New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, to 2012 nominee Mitt Romney, to firebrand Ted Cruz and Libertarian Rand Paul have been mentioned as possible candidates, and that list of potential candidates may have just grown by one, and it’s a name very familiar to online poker players.

Who else might be throwing their hat in the ring? Former New York Governor and current Coalition to Stop Internet Gambling (CSIG) co-chair George Pataki.

This week Pataki was in New Hampshire (an early primary state) and told reporters he was “seriously considering” running for the nation’s highest office. Pataki said he was “encouraged” by the response he has received, and cited the fact that he “successfully ran one of the largest and most complicated governments in the country — and in a blue state,” to the Boston Globe following his New Hampshire appearance.

The Adelson effect

If Pataki does run he would be able to scratch fundraising off his to-do list, considering Sheldon Adelson – virtually singlehandedly – funded Newt Gingrich’s 2012 presidential bid until it became clear he was not going to win the nomination.

Adelson’s contributions (an estimated $50 million) were the only thing that allowed Gingrich to stay in the 2012 primary as long as he did, and once Adelson switched his support to Mitt Romney he contributed another $50 million to his coffers, according to unofficial reports.

With Adelson’s backing (I’m assuming Adelson would back one of his handpicked CSIG co-chairs) Pataki immediately becomes a viable and well-funded candidate, and that could be very bad news for his opponents in the Republican primary, as well as online gambling advocates for the following reason.

The Wire Act Part III

In 2002 the DOJ made their first determination as to the Wire Act’s application to online gambling. The 2002 opinion was reexamined in 2011, with the DOJ ruling that the law written in 1961 only applies to sports betting – a ruling that opened the door for Nevada, Delaware and New Jersey to pass online gambling bills.

In 2014 Adelson attempted, but failed to have the 2011 opinion overturned through legislation, but there is another option available if a friendly administration is in the White House.

The 2011 opinion that changed the DOJ’s interpretation of the Wire Act could be reexamined by a new incoming Attorney General. As the President, Pataki would be responsible for appointing the next Attorney General, and therein lies the potential for yet another reexamination of the 1961 Wire Act.

Not a fringe candidate

Before you write off Pataki as a fringe candidate, the 2016 version of Newt Gingrich, who might only gain some traction because of Adelson’s deep pockets, think again. Pataki’s name is typically on the early short-lists for the Republican presidential candidates, and he would be a formidable candidate with or without Adelson’s backing.

Even though he hasn’t been a national political figure for close to a decade (he left office in 2006) Pataki is a highly sought after endorsement on the Republican side of the aisle, and was a potential Vice Presidential candidate for George W. Bush in 2000. Pataki also tested the waters for a 2012 Presidential run (making the mandatory Iowa trip), but officially announced he would not be running in 2011.

Pataki is a viable candidate.

A staunch Republican, he has some crossover appeal with moderates and liberals on several issues. He’s progressive on the environment, supports abortion rights, supports gay rights, expanded health care and charter schools during his time in office, and did an admirable job with fiscal and tax policy despite having to deal with the economic downturn after 9/11.

Pataki was also a fairly popular Republican Governor in a very Blue state. Towards the end of his administration his popularity plummeted (a not uncommon occurrence for someone holding the same office for 12 years) but his time as governor is now looked upon as a positive period in New York.

During his time as Governor, Pataki saw his approval rating as high as 72% (post 9/11 numbers) and as low as 30% (in 2006), but was typically around 50%, which is a good number for a Republican in New York during the tail-end of George W. Bush’s presidency, and the beginning of the political polarization period in this country.

Finally, for a career politician, Pataki carries very little baggage.

His name recognition and accomplishments could put certain Blue and Purple states in play for the Republicans – it’s unlikely a Republican would win New York, but if anyone could, it’s a former Governor.

Pataki’s biggest problem will be surviving criticism from the far right on his more progressive views, and differentiating himself from the other, better-known “moderate” Republicans like Chris Christie, Mitt Romney, and Jeb Bush, all of whom have hinted at a potential run.



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Steve Ruddock

Steve is veteran of the the poker industry, first as a player and now as a writer focusing mainly on the regulated U.S. markets and the politics of poker. Follow Steve on Twitter @SteveRuddock and at Google+.