http://www.nytimes.com/2008/09/28/us/politics/28gambling-web.html?hp=&pagewanted=all September 28, 2008 McCain and Team Have Many Ties to Gambling Industry By JO BECKER and DON VAN NATTA Jr. 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 Partyâs 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. McCainâs campaigns and built Foxwoods into the worldâs second-largest casino. Joining them was Rick Davis, Mr. McCainâs current campaign manager. Their night of good fortune epitomized not just Mr. McCainâs 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. As a two-time chairman of the Indian Affairs Committee, Mr. McCain has done more than any other member of Congress to shape the laws governing Americaâs casinos, helping to transform the once-sleepy Indian gambling business into a $26-billion-a-year behemoth with 423 casinos across the country. He has won praise as a champion of economic development and self-governance on reservations. âOne of the founding fathers of Indian gamingâ is what Steven Light, a University of North Dakota professor and a leading Indian gambling expert, called Mr. McCain. As factions of the ferociously competitive gambling industry have vied for an edge, they have found it advantageous to cultivate a relationship with Mr. McCain or hire someone who has one, according to an examination based on more than 70 interviews and thousands of pages of documents. Mr. McCain portrays himself as a Washington maverick unswayed by special interests, referring recently to lobbyists as âbirds of prey.â Yet in his current campaign, more than 40 fund-raisers and top advisers have lobbied or worked for an array of gambling interests â including tribal and Las Vegas casinos, lottery companies and online poker purveyors. When rules being considered by Congress threatened a California tribeâs planned casino in 2005, Mr. McCain helped spare the tribe. Its lobbyist, who had no prior experience in the gambling industry, had a nearly 20-year friendship with Mr. McCain. In Connecticut that year, when a tribe was looking to open the stateâs third casino, staff members on the Indian Affairs Committee provided guidance to lobbyists representing those fighting the casino, e-mail messages and interviews show. The proposed casino, which would have cut into the Pequotsâ market share, was opposed by Mr. McCainâs colleagues in Connecticut. Mr. McCain declined to be interviewed. In written answers to questions, his campaign staff said he was âjustifiably proudâ of his record on regulating Indian gambling. âSenator McCain has taken positions on policy issues because he believed they are in the public interest,â the campaign said. Mr. McCainâs spokesman, Tucker Bounds, would not discuss the senatorâs night of gambling at Foxwoods, saying: âYour paper has repeatedly attempted to insinuate impropriety on the part of Senator McCain where none exists â and it reveals that your publication is desperately willing to gamble away what little credibility it still has.â Over his career, Mr. McCain has taken on special interests, like big tobacco, and angered the capitalâs powerbrokers by promoting campaign finance reform and pushing to limit gifts that lobbyists can shower on lawmakers. On occasion, he has crossed the gambling industry on issues like regulating slot machines. Perhaps no episode burnished Mr. McCainâs image as a reformer more than his stewardship three years ago of the Congressional investigation into Jack Abramoff, the disgraced Republican Indian gambling lobbyist who became a national symbol of the pay-to-play culture in Washington. The senatorâs leadership during the scandal set the stage for the most sweeping overhaul of lobbying laws since Watergate. âIâve fought lobbyists who stole from Indian tribes,â the senator said in his speech accepting the Republican presidential nomination this month. But interviews and records show that lobbyists and political operatives in Mr. McCainâs inner circle played a behind-the-scenes role in bringing Mr. Abramoffâs misdeeds to Mr. McCainâs attention â and then cashed in on the resulting investigation. The senatorâs 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. Mr. McCainâs campaign said the senator acted solely to protect American Indians, even though the inquiry posed âgrave risk to his political interests.â As public opposition to tribal casinos has grown in recent years, Mr. McCain has distanced himself from Indian gambling, Congressional and American Indian officials said. But he has rarely wavered in his loyalty to Las Vegas, where he counts casino executives among his close friends and most prolific fund-raisers. âBeyond just his support for gaming, Nevada supports John McCain because heâs one of us, a Westerner at heart,â said Sig Rogich, a Nevada Republican kingmaker who raised nearly $2 million for Mr. McCain at an event at his home in June. Only six members of Congress have received more money from the gambling industry than Mr. McCain, and five hail from the casino hubs of Nevada and New Jersey, according to data from the Center for Responsive Politics dating back to 1989. In the presidential race, Senator Barack Obama has also received money from the industry; Mr. McCain has raised almost twice as much.