Senator Harry Reid - His Political Career and Gambling

Senator Harry Reid - His Political Career and Gambling

Harry Reid is one of the most powerful Senators in the United States government. But if he wasn't a politician paid by taxpayers, Reid could probably have made a very lucrative career in the moving business.

Born in the former desert boom town of Searchlight, NV. on Dec. 2, 1939 -- before its gold resources were depleted, the town had a population nearly the size of Las Vegas --- Reid grew up just a couple of blocs from the Del Ray, one if 13 brothels operating legally under Nevada law.

'I learned to swim in the pool at the Del Ray,' the U.S. Senator candidly wrote in his autobiography, 'The Good Fight'. 'It had a fancy tiled pool, the fanciest in town.'

Willie Martello owned the Del Ray. A big man with a cigar who indulged himself in life's pleasures, he opened the pool to Searchlight's young people every Thursday morning during the summer months. The girls who worked at the whorehouse would be given the day off.

Now I don't know if you are a supporter of Harry Reid or not. I am certainly not one of his fans. But you have to respect him for making it big in politics after the childhood he and his brother endured.

His father, Harry Vincent Reid, was a laborer who worked in the gold mines that surrounded Searchlight. He was a hard worker and an equally hard drinker who got into several brushes with the law. On one memorable occasion, the miner was clubbed into unconsciousness by a town policeman armed with a sap -- a leather weapon with a beanbag full of buckshot.


'It left a permanent scar on his head,' said Reid.

Harry's mother took in laundry from the local casinos and the brothels. Unlike her husband who was a morose man usually in a foul mood, Inez Reid was a happy-go-lucky person who didn't mind cleaning other people's clothing and sheets to keep her family together.

In his book Harry describes growing up poor in a three-bedroom shack with no indoor toilet, no hot water and no phone. Because Searchlight was without a school, he and his brother traveled to Henderson, NV. 40 miles away to receive their education.

'We didn't have any religion in Searchlight' said Harry. 'I mean, there was no religion at all. People were just too busy doing other things to worry about religion.'

The town had a local ordinance that no brothel could operate within a certain distance from a school, he remembered. One of the brothels was found to be in violation of the law.

Harry, who is known on Capitol Hill for his dry wit, said, 'When the owner of the whorehouse was informed of the violation, there was no problem. He talked to a few people in town, and they moved the school.'

Skinny but tough as nails, he played football and became an amateur boxing in high school. His boxing coach was Mike O'Callahan, an equally tough Irishman who later became governor of Nevada. He chose as his running mate young Harry Reid who served as his Lieutenant Governor.

Despite enjoying living in the desert, Harry said it was no way for a kid to grow up. Tragedy struck the Reid family when his father shot himself to death. He was 52.

With O'Callahan's encouragement, Reid enrolled at Southern Utah University where he studied political science and history. He completed his education at George Washington University Law School and worked briefly for the U.S. Capitol Police before going into politics with O'Callahan as his mentor.

Harry loved the power and money he could make in politics. After serving as Nevada's Lieutenant Governor, he lost a bid for the U.S. Senate against Paul Laxalt, who was a good friend of Ronald Reagan. Then he ran for mayor of Las Vegas, a race he also lost.

Being a boxer helped Harry take the good with the bad. He stuck out his chin like the pugilist that he is and was named to the Nevada Gaming Commission, which admired his tough ways so much the Commission named him chairman, a position he held from 1977-81.

That gave Harry plenty of muscle with the Nevada casino industry. He made friends with casino owners, learned the inner workings of gambling houses and later called on those friendships to finance all of his political campaigns. When he ran for the U.S. Senate, casinos donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to help elect him, and he won easily.

Now here is where the chicanery comes in. After Reid became well entrenched as a Senator, he bought 160 acres of undeveloped Arizona desert land just across the Nevada state line. In 2005, he earmarked a spending bill to construct a bridge between Nevada and Arizona. Although Harry touted the bill as 'good news for Nevada,' it was better news for Reid since the value of his property skyrocketed.

He partnered with Nevada casino lawyer Jay Brown and Nevada attorney-land developer Harvey Whittemore on a couple of deals that sweetened their bank accounts.

Reid used his political clout and Brown and Whittemore funneled big donations into Harry's campaign and leadership fund that he used to help other aspiring Democratic political candidates.including his own two sons to run for elected officers. Whittemore even employed Reid's son, Leif, as his own personal lawyer.


On one real estate transaction with Brown, Harry made over $700,000 on the sale of two residential property lots in Las Vegas.In 2005, Harry scored a big financial windfall and showed the political power a United States Senator can use to change the odds.

Congress passed a huge $286 billion federal transportation bill that was loaded with earmarks, including $300 million for projects in Nevada. One project was $18 million in federal funds to build a bridge across the Colorado River near where Reid owned 160 aces of harsh undeveloped desert land.

Almost overnight, houses began going up and the value of Harry's property increased sharply.

Reid also pulled political strings to help Whittemore construct thousands of houses and several golf courses on 43,000 acres in the Coyote Springs area. which lies an hour driving time northeast of Las Vegas. There were some legal problems to overcome, including federal restrictions on the property.

It seems there was an endangered spies of desert tortoise that dwelt on the land planned for development. The property was also strewn with streams and washes that the Environmental Protection Agency had designated as crucial to the health of the desert ecosystem, which made it off limits to construction.

No problem. The shrewd boxer from Searchlight made a few calls and sent letters to friends in high places. Voila! The Bureau of Land Management agreed to move the tortoises to a federal reserve a short distance away. Reid had learned a good lesson from the relocation of the schoolhouse to the brothel that was violating the law.

Reid also worked with his fellow Nevada Senator John Ensign to successfully persuade the EPA to eliminate the environmental impact problem. It seems that where big money is involved and Harry Reid is the mover, anything goes.

Wait. There's more. Between 2001 and 2004, Reid wrote a minimum of four letters pressing the Bush Administration to move on issues important to Indian tribes that were paying off clients of Jack Abramoff, a lobbyist who represented Indian tribes that sought to build casinos on Indian reservations.

Along the way, Abramoff broke the law and was convicted in federal district court of defrauding the Indians out of tribal funds. For each letter he wrote, Reid reportedly received major financial donations from Abramoff, his lobbying partners and the tribes involved.

Today Reid no longer considers himself an atheist. He joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. As Senate Majority Leader before the Midterm elections that dethroned him, he was the power behind the movement by owners of some land-based casinos to keep Internet gambling illegal.

Nobody quite knows where Harry the Mover stands on the Internet gambling issue, which is expected to be resolved one way or another in the near future. Keep tuned to this website to find out the details.

  • I often forget just how diverse the religious makeup of the States can be, there are virtually no Mormons over here in the UK and even if there was, they sure as hell wouldn't have a great chance of making it into our parliament which consists almost solely of rich public school boys who are in no way representative of the wider population. I hope we get a more American political system over here one day.
  • Excellent article! At first I wasn't sure about the title, but as it turns out-it's brilliant. Thank you for this unique insight into Reid's psychological development. Recently I got interested in his allegedly codependent relationship with Sheldon Adelson. Harry Reid is obviously a survivor, there's no doubt he will do anything to get things done his way.
  • JADE, your comments are most appreciated. Since I write for my readers, I would like to give you a sincere invitation to provide me with a story idea for a future column. I am serious and would value your reply.
  • Great story. And how about that, Reid is a Mormon. Now about Mormon's and gambling. I heard someone say once that gambling is like coffee and alcohol to a Mormon, "once you are 20 miles away from town, it's all good." I certainly think Reid should see the advantages of online gambling since he is from out west. I don't think religion will be an issue either. As with the end result of online gambling in the US, it is still a wait and see issue.

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