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 Otters campaign last month at a Sun Valley fundraiser.
Their companies, Wynn Resorts and Station Casinos, also gave the limit, as did Wynns wife, Andrea. The four individuals and two companies each contributed $5,000 to both Otters primary and general election campaigns, for a total of $60,000.
The disclosures came last week in Otters 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 hes 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 dont 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 Otters support of Idahos relatively tough gambling laws.
Im 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 hed 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 worlds 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 worlds 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 Boises Motive Power to operate on a 30-mile rail line under construction between Hong Kong and Macau. The worlds 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. Thats 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 doesnt make good business sense.
Theyd 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? Theyve 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 Otters joint appearance with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie at Wynns 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 Whats 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 Wynns home, Otter and Christie flew to Coeur dAlene, 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 dont, you are going to see the other Chris Christie, he said. ... Ill tell you the truth, you dont want me back here angry.
The Sun Valley and Coeur dAlene 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