Otter collects $60,000 from Nevada gaming interests

But the governor says he will not support any legalized online gambling in Idaho despite campaign support from casino moguls.

dpopkey@idahostatesman.comJanuary 26, 2014 

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie stumped for Idaho Gov. Butch Otter in December at the Coeur d'Alene Resort. Christie joked with the crowd that if it didn't fully back Otter, "I will be back with a Jersey attitude, and that's not pretty."

DUANE RASMUSSEN — Spokesman Review

  • OTTER ON ‘BRIDGEGATE’

    Idaho Gov. Butch Otter says New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie didn’t say anything during his December fundraising visit to Idaho about any coming controversy over a staff-engineered traffic jam on the George Washington Bridge and in Fort Lee, N.J.

    Otter said he believes Christie when he says he had no knowledge of his staff’s actions to retaliate against a mayor for declining to endorse Christie’s re-election bid.

    “So far, I haven’t seen anything that would suggest to me that he did have any knowledge,” Otter told the Statesman.

    Otter said Christie’s stature as the leading GOP candidate for president in 2016 could rise, assuming he’s cleared by investigators.

    “I think there’s probably going to be some help if he comes out of this without any knowledge of the bridge closure,” Otter said.

    Otter told the Statesman that Christie would be a strong candidate, but Otter said he isn’t ready to make an endorsement.

    Otter said the motives of Democrats pressing the issue are suspect.

    “I can’t look at any of that stuff without recognizing that somebody’s worried about where he is in the polls,” Otter said. “I’m sorry, maybe I have a jaundiced eye that way.”

  • ABOUT DAN POPKEY

    Dan grew up in a poker-friendly household, often camping under the kitchen table while his father played small-stakes games with buddies. Dan still gambles occasionally, but never risks much. His favorite casino, the Nevada Club in Reno, was demolished in 1999. He agrees with those who oppose the state lottery as a tax on the poor, but enjoys a small wager on the ponies.

Three billionaire Nevada casino operators — Steve Wynn and brothers Frank Fertitta III and Lorenzo Fertitta — contributed the maximum allowed under Idaho law to Gov. Butch Otter’s campaign last month at a Sun Valley fundraiser.

Their companies, Wynn Resorts and Station Casinos, also gave the limit, as did Wynn’s wife, Andrea. The four individuals and two companies each contributed $5,000 to both Otter’s primary and general election campaigns, for a total of $60,000.

The disclosures came last week in Otter’s campaign finance report for the second half of 2013. Otter is running for a third term.

Two leading anti-gambling lawmakers said Friday that the large contributions might spark interest in pre-emptive legislation to make it clear that Idaho wants no part in authorizing online gaming.

Otter told the Statesman on Thursday that there was no discussion of gaming policy at the fundraiser. He said he’s opposed to online gaming.

“It might raise a few eyebrows, as some may wonder why the interest in Idaho,” said Senate President Pro Tem Brent Hill, R-Rexburg. “I don’t mind sending them a message to say stay out and leave us alone.”

Hill said he would support such a measure, but not bring it himself. He also said he has no reason to believe that the contributions were an attempt to weaken Otter’s support of Idaho’s relatively tough gambling laws.

“I’m not concerned about the influence on the governor,” Hill said.

House State Affairs Committee Chairman Tom Loertscher, R-Iona, predicted that any push for online gaming would meet stiff resistance.

Loertscher said he believes that the Idaho Constitution bars online gambling. But if there was any hint that gaming interests were eyeing Idaho, he said that he’d expect consideration of a statutory ban, a step already taken in Utah and Maine.

“The governor is opposed to online gaming in Idaho,” Otter spokesman Mark Warbis said Friday. As for consideration of a pre-emptive ban, Warbis said: “He will not speculate on any piece of hypothetical legislation.”

TOURING IN MACAU

The Fertittas’ Station Casinos was the first to offer legal online gaming, at UltimatePoker.com in April, when Nevada became the first state to sanction the business.

UltimatePoker.com has since expanded to New Jersey.

The brothers, whose net worth is estimated at $1.3 billion each by Forbes magazine, also own the Ultimate Fighting Championship, the world’s largest pay-per-view content provider.

Wynn, who Forbes says is worth $2.9 billion, petitioned New Jersey regulators on Jan. 10 for a license to operate online gaming in the Garden State. Wynn and Frank Fertitta recently joined the board of the American Gaming Association, the lobbying arm of the casino industry.

Otter said he has known Wynn since 2008, when he toured a Wynn hotel and casino in Macau. The tiny former Portuguese colony is now under Chinese control; in the past decade, it became the world’s largest gambling center, with revenue five times greater than that of Las Vegas.

Otter visited Macau on a trade mission, hoping to eventually sell Idaho-made locomotives from Boise’s Motive Power to operate on a 30-mile rail line under construction between Hong Kong and Macau. The world’s longest bridge is projected to open in 2016, supplementing ferry service for the peninsula.

“We want to build the engines,” said Otter, who also visited Hong Kong, Vietnam and Taiwan on the 2008 trip. “That’s when I got introduced to the Wynn Group.”

As far as gaming goes, Idaho law permits a state-run lottery; parimutuel horse racing; video racing at tracks in Boise, Post Falls and Idaho Falls; and gaming on Indian reservations. As for longtime rumors that Nevada operators would have interest in operating casinos in Idaho, Otter said that doesn’t make good business sense.

“They’d be the first to have money up here to stop it,” Otter said. “Rationally, why would they want to have to build another hotel and another casino? They’ve already got it focused. Why would they want to have to come into Idaho?”

RIDING SHOTGUN WITH CHRIS CHRISTIE

The $60,000 from Wynn and the Fertittas followed Otter’s joint appearance with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie at Wynn’s house in Sun Valley on Dec. 6.

Wynn hosted the fundraiser for the Republican Governors Association, which Christie chairs. Wynn, 71, frequently skis Bald Mountain.

After Christie spoke, Otter said he “had the opportunity to make my pitch,” talking about his policies on state spending, the economy and unemployment.

“And the first thing out of some of their mouths was ‘What’s your donation law?’ ” Otter told the Statesman. “I said, ‘$5,000 max, it can come from an individual or a corporation.’ ”

After lunch with contributors at Wynn’s home, Otter and Christie flew to Coeur d’Alene, where Christie headlined an Otter fundraiser and rally attended by about 350 people.

Christie played on his reputation as a tough guy, telling the crowd to get behind Otter immediately in his race against Sen. Russ Fulcher, R-Meridian.

“Now if you don’t, you are going to see the other Chris Christie,” he said. “... I’ll tell you the truth, you don’t want me back here angry.”

The Sun Valley and Coeur d’Alene fundraisers were a success. Otter collected about $182,000 in the seven days after the events, more than a quarter of his $686,000 haul for July through December.

Dan Popkey: 377-6438, Twitter: @IDS_politics

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