Poker’s U.S. Money Trail Raises Embarrassing Questions
By James Rutherford
Like David Carruthers, who reveled in the spotlight of the world’ largest gambling stage, criss-crossing the United States to lecture and lobby while high-flying BetonSports spent lavishly to attract American bettors, the men now under indictment in the Justice Department’ massive criminal and civil case against PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker and Absolute Poker appear to have gravely mistaken the difference between acting as though you’re legal and being so.

And they’re not alone.
More than a few American politicians may have some explaining to do as questions mount over how companies based outside the United States and operating outside U.S. law were able to funnel huge sums through the system to buy influence.
Federal law prohibits foreign contributions to federal, state and local elections campaigns, but that didn’t stop the political action committee of the Poker Players Alliance from contributing more than $190,000 to federal candidates, political parties and campaign committees in 2009 and 2010 with subsidies from Canada’ Interactive Gaming Council, whose members include the companies behind PokerStars and Full Tilt. 

The IGC steered clear of direct campaign contributions, but it spent more than $1.6 million lobbying in Washington last year, a sum bested in the gambling sector only by the PPA ($1.8 million) and casino giant Caesars Entertainment ($3.9 million).
PokerStars’s activities were more overt in Nevada, where the laws governing campaign spending by foreign nationals are unclear.
Operating through ReelPAC, an entity with an address in the Las Vegas suburb of Henderson, the Isle of Man-based operator contributed $272,000 to 68 candidates for office, party PACs, Democratic and Republican legislative caucuses and state government officials in 2010 among them was Secretary of State Ross Miller, whose department oversees Nevada’ elections.
Recipients included the new governor, Brian Sandoval, and his 2010 opponent, Harry Reid’ son Rory Reid, Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki, Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, Assembly Speaker John Oceguera, Majority Leader Marcus Conklin and Assemblyman William Horne, the Las Vegas lawmaker behind a 2011 bill to legalize Internet poker in Nevada and whose Judiciary Committee recommended the bill for passage. 
“The fact that a foreign company, which has been charged with operating a criminal enterprise, could play such a large role in Nevada campaigns is troubling,” Republican Sen. Greg Bower told the Las Vegas Review-Journal.
Bower, a former U.S. attorney appointed to the Senate in February to complete the term of retiring William Raggio, is pushing for an investigation, and reviews reportedly are under way by the Secretary of State’ Office, absent Miller, and the state attorney general. 

James Rutherford is a former editor of Casino Journal and International Gaming & Wagering Business who reports extensively on U.S. and global gaming issues.