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“This is public policy that makes sense,” he said. “Nobody, Republicans or Democrats, can believe the status quo is acceptable — playing [poker] overseas without protection and not realizing any of the revenue.”

Republicans scoff at the idea that legalizing online wagering could generate significant revenue and point to fundraising records for Mr. Reid’s 2010 bruising, expensive re-election campaign as evidence of a possible payback.

Offshore gambling is an estimated $6.2 billion industry. Mr. Reid wants to tax only online poker at roughly 20 percent, which would equal about $1.2 billion.

“That’s pretty poor compared to the $700 billion [bank bailout bill],” said one GOP policy staffer.

Supporters have estimated that revenue would amount to $10 billion to $40 billion over the next 10 years.

Industry watchers say Mr. Reid — who once opposed Internet gambling — hinted in August that he might change his mind, as tea party-backed GOP Senate candidate Sharon Angle appeared poised to keep him from serving a fifth term. They also said his legislation would have granted the first licenses to Nevada and other casino states because they have established regulatory programs.

By the time Mr. Reid eked out a win on Nov. 2, he had received at least $650,000 from several Las Vegas casino companies, including MGM Resorts International, which owns the Bellagio, and Harrah’s Entertainment, whose holdings include Caesars Palace.

MGM executives, employees and the company’s political action committee collectively gave $192,450, making them Mr. Reid’s top campaign contributor. Executives and employees of Harrah’s — now known as Caesars Entertainment — and the corporate political action committee gave $83,100 to Mr. Reid, making them collectively Mr. Reid’s fourth-largest donor, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

“If it brings revenues and jobs into the United States, it’s the right thing to do,” MGM spokesman Alan Feldman told NBC News in an interview. “As a country, we’ve allowed jobs and tax revenues to be outsourced to Europe and parts of the Caribbean.”