Reno Gazette-Journal

New Speaker easy on gaming, supports nuke dump here

By Fredreka Schouten

Thursday, December 24, 1998

WASHINGTON - Likely House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert may be deeply conservative, but he has not demonstrated any hostility to gambling, casino industry backers said this week.

The Illinois Republican, an evangelical Christian who opposes abortion, represents a congressional district that includes two towns with riverboat casinos and has accepted a campaign contribution from one casino company.

"The fact that he accepts gaming money shows that he doesn't have the phobia about gaming that some Republican and Democratic congressmen do," said Mike Dayton, chief of staff to Nevada Rep. Jim Gibbons.

But one piece of Hastert's legislative dossier is troubling for Nevadans: His support of legislation creating a temporary nuclear waste dump in southern Nevada. Hastert was among the first sponsors of a bill last year to speed highly radioactive waste to the Nevada Test Site, and he battled for its passage on the House floor.

"It's a positive thing to have someone in leadership who supports your issues, but I don't know if anyone can tell what that means now in moving legislation in (the next) Congress," said Scott Peterson, of the Nuclear Energy Institute, a Washington-based trade group for the nuclear utilities that have pushed the Nevada nuclear waste dump.

Dayton, however, steered clear of openly criticizing the nuclear waste record of man who is expected to lead the Republican-controlled Congress next year.

"No matter who is the speaker is," Dayton said, "unless he is from Nevada, we will always be fighting this issue."

Gibbons is expected to talk with Hastert after the holidays, Dayton said, and he "is going to make sure Mr. Hastert will know Nevada's concerns" about nuclear waste.

In the last two years, Hastert has accepted $4,000 from nuclear energy interests and another$ 11,000 from electric utilities that own nuclear reactors.

He also received a $ 1,000 contribution from Harrah's Entertainment, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a campaign-finance watchdog group. In Elgin, Ill., in Hastert's

congressional district, Nevada-based Circus Circus Enterprises owns a 50 percent interest in the Grand Victoria Casino, a 30,000 square-foot riverboat.

In testimony before a federal gambling commission this year, Elgin Mayor Kevin Kelly called the casino, which employs 1,600, "an outstanding community asset."

"The fact that (gambling) is successful in two communities in his district is positive," said Frank Fahrenkopf, who heads the casino industry's American Gaming Association in Washington.

Hastert is expected to be formally chosen speaker by his Republican colleagues on Jan. 5 and elected by the full House the following day.