George Pataki is best known as a former Republican governor of New York, holding the office for over a decade between 1995-2006. Pataki is also currently seeking the nomination of the Republican Party in the 2016 presidential election, although he has not been able to drum up any kind of real support and this bid is destined to fail miserably.
These days though, Pataki is also famous for his anti-gambling stance and is a spokesperson for the movement. In spite of being considered pro-gambling throughout his political career as governor, he has joined forces with casino magnate Sheldon Adelson to attempt to fight the regulation of online gambling, and while he’s stepped away from that for the most part while campaigning for the nomination, he still remains one of the biggest adversaries at the federal level to the expansion of online gambling.
Pataki’s story begins in Peekskill, NY, on June 24, 1945. Pataki’s family was of fairly modest means, with his father being both a mailman and a farmer as well as chief of the local volunteer fire department.
George was a good student though and after graduating from Peekskill High School, he managed to get admitted to prestigious Yale University on an academic scholarship. Yale is known for turning out some famous graduates, and several presidents, including Gerald Ford, Bill Clinton, and George H.W. Bush, as well as one of Pataki’s classmates at Yale, George W. Bush.
Pataki received his degree from Yale and then went on to obtain a law degree from Columbia Law School, in 1970. He then entered the practice of law back home in Peekskill.
His political career started out modestly, with his first office being the mayor of Peekskill, first being elected in 1981 and then later winning a second term in 1983.
He then set his sights on the New York State Assembly, winning the first of his 4 terms in the state house in 1984, by a fairly slim margin, with only 53% of the vote. He became increasingly popular in the district over the years though, with his next trip to the polls earning 63% of the vote in 1986, 74% in 1988, and a very impressive 90% of all votes cast in 1990.
So Pataki’s star was rising, and the next order of business in his career was to win a seat in the more prestigious New York State Senate, with a view toward making a run at governor. In 1992, he ran for the Senate and won, and two years later, in 1994, got ready for the bigger stage of Governor of New York.
The governor at the time was Democrat Mario Cuomo, who was seeking his fourth consecutive term, and New York is known as a democratic state primarily, especially New York City, which is very pro-democrat and holds a lot of the state’s population and votes.
So Pataki was a real underdog and not particularly popular in New York City, and trailed Cuomo by 10 percentage points with the election just two weeks away. Cuomo had Rudy Giuliani on his side, but Pataki had Howard Stern, and Stern’s endorsement was actually felt to be very influential in the outcome.
When all the votes were counted, Pataki had squeezed out a narrow victory, in spite of losing all of New York City, but he dominated in other areas of the state which was the difference.
George Pataki went on to win two more elections as governor, and in typical Pataki fashion, had an easier time of it once he held the position. In 2002, vying for his third consecutive term, Mario Cuomo’s son and future governor Andrew Cuomo considered running against him, but on advice from Bill Clinton decided to bide his time.
The younger Cuomo still engaged in some political posturing though, evidenced by his remarks about the roles that Pataki and Giuliani played in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks: “Pataki stood behind the leader. He held the leader’s coat. He was a great assistant to the leader. But he was not a leader. Cream rises to the top, and Rudy Giuliani rose to the top.”
Pataki went through some health problems late in his third term as governor of New York and chose not to re-offer in the 2006 election. With Pataki out of the way, the Democrats won the election easily, with Eliot Spitzer winning that year, talking almost 70% of the vote.
Pataki returned to the practice of law after his run as governor ended, but still had political aspirations, this time looking to the presidency as his next move. He strongly considered making a bid for the nomination in 2012 but decided not to run at the last minute.
Pataki recently did decide to make a bid for the Republican nomination for president in 2016, although his campaign never really got off the ground and stands a long way from becoming a serious contender at this time, with support in the polls of less than 1%.
George Pataki is also noteworthy for his fervent opposition to online gambling, and has become the leading political spokesperson against it, and was appointed co-chair of Sheldon Adelson’s Coalition to Stop Internet Gambling.
It’s not that either man is against gambling in general though, and Adelson, who is spearheading this effort, surely isn’t, having made billions from casino gambling. Pataki is pretty open to gambling as well, and is believed by many to be New York’s most gambling-friendly governor of all time, and oversaw a big expansion of land-based gambling in the state.
In spite of this, former Governor Pataki is very outspoken toward online gambling. He feels that internet gambling will fuel terrorism and transnational organized crime, among other problems. He also does not seem to be swayed at all by whether his claims are reasonable or not.
What also seems to be lost on him is the fact that whether or not online gambling should be legalized is under the power of individual states, which is actually how we have come to see all of the gambling that we have now in the United States, both land-based and online.
Pataki warns: “They have said that it would be difficult if not impossible to monitor [online gambling].” This overlooks the fact that there is a lot of internet gambling going on that is not monitored at all, and one of the aims of regulating it is to indeed monitor it.
The extent of Pataki’s bias against online gambling really comes out in his comments about the Department of Justice’s changed stance on the wire act applying to online poker and casino gambling: “Changing a law that was in effect for 20 years simply by [a] ruling of the Department of Justice, this is not in the American people’s interest.”
It’s not that the law was changed at all actually, it was the DOJ’s finally accepting a ruling by the courts years earlier, finding that the law never did apply to forms of gambling besides sports betting, a finding the DOJ simply chose to ignore all those years.
Ironically, the land-based casinos he and Adelson prefer are the ones running online gambling, so if there is any money laundering or elements of organized crime involved, they are to blame. That was held to be the case in the past, but these casinos are believed to have long since cleaned up their act.
Pataki is also concerned about people having widespread access to gambling, referring in particular to college students playing in the early hours of the morning, but they already do have easy access to this, with sites that do not care a whit about U.S. law, nor are subject to it, so it’s hard to imagine this being a reason not to choose to regulate it.
He goes on: “You actually have to make a conscious decision to travel to a casino. These casinos are well regulated.” Presumably though, playing online also involves a conscious decision, and the goal here is to look to take online gambling from an unregulated state to a regulated one, and indeed, to well regulate it.
Once George Pataki drops out of the race for the Republican nomination, which is likely to be very soon, he would be free to return to his role as an online gambling opponent, which he has set aside for now in favor of focusing on his campaign.
Whether or not he chooses to do so, this issue won’t be going away, and Sheldon Adelson, with his megabucks, certainly isn’t going anywhere yet. At age 70 though, it may be time for George Pataki to finally retire from the public limelight, and while he did achieve a fair bit as governor, his legacy is only being marred by this latest hobby of his.
He gambled that these outrageous views would help his political career in some way, perhaps in part by courting the favor of right-wingers in the party, and perhaps in part by courting the favor of Mr. Adelson and his money, but it was a gamble that he clearly seems to have lost.