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The Daily 202

A lunchtime newsletter featuring political analysis on the stories driving the day.

Biden could step into debate on booming sports gambling.

The Daily 202

A lunchtime newsletter featuring political analysis on the stories driving the day.

Welcome to The Daily 202! Tell your friends to sign up here. On this day in 2001, a Scottish court sitting in the Netherlands convicted Libyan national Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi in the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland. He was sentenced to life in prison, but released in 2009 on humanitarian grounds after doctors said he had terminal cancer. He died in 2012.

The big idea

Biden could step into debate on booming sports gambling

It’s not the standoff with Russia over Ukraine, the stubbornly high covid death toll or North Korea’s latest missile tests. But a little story out of Arizona last week caught my eye and made me ponder the uncertain politics of a booming U.S. industry: sports gambling, notably online. 

President Biden could play a significant role in shaping its future, with potentially wide-ranging repercussions for the dozens of states that have embraced the practice — some to make up pandemic-era tax shortfalls — and others turning to it to lift public finances in the future.

White House press officials did not return an email asking whether Biden believed online sports gambling — set to make billions this year from a potential wagering pool of more than 100 million Americans — should be regulated at the federal level.

But New Jersey formally asked the Justice Department in June 2021 to confirm online gambling is legal. Congress has looked at the matter and could still decide to act. There was even a time when NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell asked lawmakers to do so to protect “the integrity of our sport.”

The story that grabbed me was this Arizona Republic piece from last week by Ryan Randazzo, who looked at how gamblers in the Grand Canyon state, home to 12 mobile sports books, had lost $51 million betting on sports in November. Overall, they have “wagered more than $1.2 billion on sports after three months of legal betting.”

The state collected about $3.2 million in fees for the month. That number would have been $1.8 million higher if not for the provision allowing sportsbooks to deduct free bets and promotions from their liability,” Ryan reported.

“Still, November's fees to the state were substantially higher than September and October, which combined brought in only about $1 million to the state because of the sportsbooks deducting promotions.”

Growing market. State government potentially increasingly dependent on revenue. Little federal regulatory structure. Even if a couple million dollars for Arizona’s state government doesn’t sound like a lot of money, it has the makings of an interesting political story.

And if you’ve somehow escaped the flood of celebrity-packed advertisements for various online or mobile betting services — it may be easier to avoid presidential ads in New Hampshire every four years — those resources are, as Vice President Biden might have put it, “a big [honking] deal.”

My colleague Rick Maese surveyed the landscape in mid-January: “When the federal ban on sports wagering was rescinded in 2018, there was a sprint to the marketplace, with states eager to leap headfirst into the gambling business. And since then, there has been a steady trickle of new states opening their doors to gambling operators such as Caesars and MGM. Some 112 million Americans — more than a third of the population — can now legally wager on sports without leaving their couch. Another 50 million need only hop in their car to place an in-person bet.

Big and bigger

It’s big, Rick noted: “More than $87 billion has been legally wagered on sports since the Supreme Court struck down the law, according to industry site, and some 40 million Americans were expected to place bets on the NFL regular season that ended last weekend.”

It’s going to get bigger, Rick reported. “New York launched mobile betting last week. Bettors in three states, including Ohio, should be able to start placing wagers this year, joining 29 states where sports betting is already legal. While Florida continues to iron out legal wrinkles, efforts by lawmakers in Georgia, North Carolina and Massachusetts are expected to heat up. And the matter could finally go before California voters by the end of the year.”

There’s another wrinkle: gambling using cryptocurrencies, making it enormously more difficult for state regulators, leagues, and even betting facilitators to know where the money is coming from and to whom it is flowing. And cryptocurrencies are coming: is paying a reported $700 million to put its name on what used to be the Staples Center.

“The leagues are all in on sports betting,” Jane McManus, director of the Marist Center for Sports Communication, told The Daily 202. “Whereas five years ago Roger Goodell was lobbying Congress for regulation, the NFL recently sent out a press release to announce they would educate fans to bet responsibly.”

And, sure enough, the league runs ads during games urging fans “Stick to your game plan, always bet responsibly.”

But, McManus said, “in reality the league is also teaching fans to bet. These ad campaigns are functioning to change American attitudes and normalize betting. Without independent oversight, there is plenty of opportunity for revenue, but also for malfeasance.”

What's happening now

White House frustrations grow over health chief Becerra’s handling of pandemic

“White House officials have grown so frustrated with top health official Xavier Becerra as the pandemic rages on that they have openly mused about who might be better in the job, although political considerations have stopped them from taking steps to replace him, officials involved in the discussions said,” Dan Diamond, Yasmeen Abutaleb and Tyler Pager report.

  • Ouch: “He hasn’t shown up,” said Eric Topol, director of the Scripps Research Translational Institute and a prominent covid analyst, adding that Becerra has been “like a ghost” during the pandemic. “An HHS secretary has so much authority and power to help. And we have no evidence that any of it is being exerted … The secretary has “to step up or step aside."
  • But: “… removing Becerra would likely draw the ire of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and other grass-roots groups that pressed Biden to appoint more Latinos to his Cabinet. Officials are also loath to take on a complicated staffing change with a divided Senate as they prioritize confirmation of a new Supreme Court justice and navigate election-year politics.”

Downing Street gatherings during U.K. lockdowns ‘difficult to justify,’ report finds

“An investigation of Downing Street parties held during pandemic lockdowns concluded that some of the gatherings showed ‘a serious failure’ to observe the standards expected of government officials and the British population. A summary of the investigation, published Monday, said the parties showed a failure in leadership, involved excessive alcohol use, and ‘should not have been allowed to take place,’” William Booth and Karla Adam report.

U.S., Russia face off over Ukraine at U.N. amid whirlwind of talks and continuing uncertainty

“The United States and its allies Monday beat back a Russian effort to avoid a public confrontation over Ukraine, with the majority of the United Nations Security Council voting to go forward with its first meeting to discuss the crisis,” Robyn Dixon, William Booth, Karen DeYoung and Rachel Pannett report.

Officials say Kamala Harris drove within yards of pipe bomb during Capitol riot

“Details about Harris’ proximity to the pipe bomb and the extended period she remained inside the DNC have not been previously reported. The revelations further expose a security lapse on January 6 as law enforcement tried to respond to multiple major events, protect highly visible politicians, and fend off tens of thousands of riotous protesters that had flooded into Washington and attacked the US Capitol,” CNN’s Whitney Wild, Zachary Cohen and Evan Perez report.

Lunchtime reads from The Post

Critics say Ginni Thomas’s activism is a Supreme Court conflict. Only her husband can decide if that’s true.

Ginni Thomas’s name stood out among the signatories of a December letter from conservative leaders, which blasted the work of the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection as ‘overtly partisan political persecution.’ One month later, her husband, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas took part in a case crucial to the same committee’s work: former president Donald Trump’s request to block the committee from getting White House records that were ordered released by President Biden and two lower courts,”  Michael Kranish reports. “Thomas was the only justice to say he would grant Trump’s request.

An issue of recusal: “That vote has reignited fury among Justice Thomas’s critics, who say it illustrates a gaping hole in the court’s rules: Justices essentially decide for themselves whether they have a conflict of interest, and Thomas has rarely made such a choice in his three decades on the court.”

Tim Ryan’s plea to Ohio’s White working class: Trust Democrats again

“Ryan’s bet — and the national Democratic dream — is that a few issues still just might matter more than his party label. He lists three whenever he speaks … rebuilding the country with major public works spending, new government investing in manufacturing industries and beating China,” Michael Scherer reports.

The pitch has made Ryan one of the most consequential Democratic candidates of the 2022 cycle, a test case on whether his party has any hope of reclaiming its erstwhile White working-class voting base, as former president Donald Trump, who sped their flight, waits in the wings. The struggle is, by any measure, uphill — Democrats have just one statewide win in the former swing state since 2012 — and Republicans remain favored to replace retiring Sen. Rob Portman (R) in November.”

… and beyond

U.S. says it will target Putin’s inner circle with sanctions if Russia moves on Ukraine

“The US has drawn up sanctions targeting Vladimir Putin’s inner circle and its ties to the west as Washington broadens the list of financial penalties it is ready to impose if Russia invades Ukraine,” senior administration officials told the Financial Times’s James Politi. (Britain has issued a similar warning, Reuters's Guy Faulconbridge and Dmitry Antonov report.)

“The administration officials did not name the Russian oligarchs and family members in question but said that many were ‘particularly vulnerable targets because of their deepened financial ties with the west,’” Politi reports.

“‘Sanctions would cut them off from the international financial system and ensure that they and their family members will no longer be able to enjoy the perks of parking their money in the west and attending elite western universities,’ the senior Biden administration officials said.”

The Biden agenda

Qatar’s emir visits White House, as Biden may need help with natural gas for Europe

“Qatar’s emir, Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, will meet with President Biden at the White House on Monday, as the administration seeks help in shoring up natural gas supplies to Europe in the event the crisis over Ukraine escalates to war and Russia cuts its flow to the continent,” Karen DeYoung reports.

“One of the world’s largest gas producers, Qatar has warned that its ability to increase supplies to Europe is limited by long-term contracts, largely with countries in Asia.” 

The White House is bracing for a bad jobs report

“Job growth numbers may be about to turn negative for the first time since President Biden took office, and the White House is seeking to get ahead of potential negative headlines,” Axios’s Neil Irwin reports.

“Vast numbers of Americans missed work this month due to the Omicron variant, and that is likely to drag down January jobs numbers. But the White House believes these effects will be temporary.”

Meet one of Biden’s possible Supreme Court nominees, Ketanji Brown Jackson

“The thick envelope that Ketanji Brown Jackson received in the mail in 2005, when she was a federal public defender in D.C., was like many others inmates had sent to her office: laden with stamps and stuffed with court filings and a plea for help,” Ann E. Marimow and Aaron C. Davis report. “But this one was a personal appeal. It had been sent by her distant uncle, Thomas Brown Jr., inmate #15854-004, who was serving a life sentence in Florida for a nonviolent drug crime. He was sending documents he hoped his niece could use to get him out of federal prison.”

Jackson’s brush with her uncle and his prison sentence, which arose out of the nation’s war on drugs, adds to a set of life experiences that would distinguish her from previous justices. Brown was sentenced to life under a ‘three strikes’ law. After a referral from Jackson, a powerhouse law firm took his case pro bono, and President Barack Obama years later commuted his sentence.”

Breyer’s center-left path, visualized

“[Justice Stephen G.] Breyer has followed a center-left ideology during nearly three decades on the court, according to a measure of voting records called Martin-Quinn scores. The scores place Supreme Court justices on a left-right scale based on how often they vote with each other,” our colleagues Kevin Schaul and Adrian Blanco explain.

Hot on the left

How did inflation get so high? How did the supply chain crisis get so severe?

“You could read hundreds of stories about this phenomenon, about the stress of longshoremen and supply chain managers and government officials, the consequences for consumers and small businesses and retailers, and superficial attempts at explaining why we got here,” David Dayen and Rakeen Mabud write in the first story of a new project by the American Prospect: “How We Broke the Supply Chain.”

Almost none of these stories will explain how these shortages and price hikes were also brought to life through bad public policy coupled with decades of corporate greed. We spent a half-century allowing business executives and financiers to take control of our supply chains, enabled by leaders in both parties. They all hailed the transformation, cheering the advances of globalization, the efficient network that would free us from want. Motivated by greed and dismissive of the public interest, they didn’t mention that their invention was supremely ill-equipped to handle inevitable supply bottlenecks. And the pandemic exposed this hidden risk, like a domino bringing down a system primed to topple.”

Hot on the right

Trump suggests Pence should have ‘overturned’ the election on Jan. 6

“Trump has expressed frustration before that [former Vice President Mike Pence] did not use his role to try to reject the votes of several states that Joe Biden won. But the language in Sunday’s statement was among Trump’s most explicit in publicly stating his desire,” John Wagner reports.

Reactions to the incendiary statement have been rolling in steadily. Here’s what Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) had to say:

And here’s George Conway, conservative lawyer and husband of former White House aide Kellyanne Conway:

Today in Washington

Biden will meet with Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, at 2 p.m.

In closing

'Space Force? Is that real?'

“A Space Force captain traveling with their spouse stood stunned at the Spirit Airlines ticket counter this past October hoping to take advantage of the company's waived baggage fees for active-duty service members,”'s Thomas Novelly reports. “But there was a problem: The Spirit employee didn't believe the Space Force exists.”

"'In the moment, I was flabbergasted,' said the officer, who spoke to on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal by Space Force superiors. "We tried to take it on methodically and convince him that the Space Force was real."

Thanks for reading. See you tomorrow.