I usually think the simplest explanation is best, but the following idea is less reliant on Frist being evil incarnate and seems to make a bit more sense. News reports are surfacing that the American-based casino and World of Series of Poker owner Harrah's has been approached with a buy out by a private investment group. On 2+2, there've been suggestions that the buy-out is contingent on the online gaming ban going through. The ultimate plan is for Harrah's to begin buying out smaller online poker sites in an effort to gain entry for the inevitable legalization/regulation of online gaming.
Before you dismiss this as too fanciful, consider the facts: Harrah's, which has no presence in Tennessee, nonetheless gave Frist a crapload of money through the years, and so should have a direct pipeline to the kitten killer's chambers. I can't imagine Frist pulling a parliamentary maneuver like this to sabotage one of his biggest contributors. So assume Harrah's is benefiting from this legislation. Then there this article, which hints that PartyGaming and smaller off-shore sites may be gobbled up by American companies. Why would American companies take over an industry completely crippled by legislation?
You can see where I'm headed. But I'm not actually gonna get there and say that the online gaming ban is an elaborate conspiracy cooked up by Frist and Harrah's in order to devalue PartyGaming et al. for an American takeover. I do think, though, given these facts, that somebody had a strong financial interest in getting this bill passed. And Frist did that "somebody's" bidding.
Conspiracy theories are often rationalizations for people who fear a world without pattern or meaning, which is why I don't usually buy them. They're too neat. I'm not sure there's a neat explanation, but I have to think someone's gonna make out with some money here. In politics, something is done: (1) to benefit a preferred interest group; (2) for political advantage; or far less frequently, (3) because it's in the public interest. Almost every piece of legislation passed by Congress will fit into those three boxes, usually the first two. On its face, the online poker ban meets none of the criteria. If Frist wanted to stoked the fundie base, there are many more hot button issues that would do a better job. It can't be for political advantage, since this was snuck into the port protection bill with almost no publicity -- the Republicans did not want to publicize this. And this bill won't really stop online gambling the way it's written or generate tax revenue.
Billion-dollar business are also assumed to be rational actors. And what most arouses my curiousity is this strange immediate surrender of PartyGaming, which has the most at stake here. They're cutting off American customers without a fight. Considering how difficult it will be to enforce this legislation, it's not clear why Party Gaming would concede hundreds of millions in profits annually without so much as a whimper. You would think they'd want to wait-and-see or threaten litigation or something.
Something's going on here. Somebody must be making out here. But whom? How about the American casinos, who may have figured that the short-term increases in poker/gambling addicts outweigh the long-term danger of a growing online competition. They want to snuff it out before it gets any bigger. Or they might want to gain entry into the marketplace on the cheap, which would happen if the legislation turns out toothless or if subsequent legislation legalizes and heavily regulates online gambling. This pattern apparently occurred in Italy, where a brief ban was lifted in favor of a regulatory scheme. There, though, the online casinos fought. Why wouldn't PartyGaming fight here, when the entire viability of their business may be at stake?
Party's behavior doesn't make sense unless something has already been worked out. Harrah's getting bought-out, and is tight with the Senate Majority Leader. Are Party and Harrah's linked somehow? Or maybe Party's announcing a pull-out from the US to show prudence to shareholders, but then will buy out the outstanding shares and become closely-held again so that they can resume the risk of taking US players?
Who knows. I'm confused. In trying to synthesize the more plausible ideas and germane data points posted on 2+2, especially the ones posted in this thread, into something like a coherent political narrative, I'm hoping to make some sense of this situation. But it assumes that, given the amount of money involved, all the participants have to be fairly rational actors and have either expected or at least have some plan in place for this contingency. The alternative, obvious explanation is that Party is just as idiotic as they appear, Frist is demagoguing, and Harrah's is just an innocent bystander to the whole thing. This time, for once, the latter seems more far-fetched to me.
Update: Theory has found support in the media! Both MSNBC and the London Telegraph have articles offering the same type of explanation, that this bill is likely aimed to help American casinos by driving out the existing infrastructure as we move towards eventual regulation of online gaming. Also, this theory from a poster on 2+2 seems somewhat plausible, if overextended.