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Supreme Court Nominee: Yes I 'Occasionally' Play Poker, No I'm Not A Degenerate Gambler

Kavanaugh Denies Gambling Debt; Admits He Played Blackjack In NJ


U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh has made use of his poker face during a contentious confirmation process this month on Capitol Hill. Perhaps that should be of no surprise, because in responses to written questions from Senators, some of whom are seething over his nomination, Kavanaugh said he’s a poker player.

After a revelation that Kavanaugh had tens of thousands of dollars, possibly up to six-figures, worth of credit card debit as recently as 2016, one Senator in particular wanted to know more about his penchant for betting. It also didn’t help that a 2001 email from Kavanaugh surfaced in which he mentioned becoming combative during a “game of dice.”

“Do you play in a regular or periodic poker game?” Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) asked in a 14-page written question list submitted to Judge Kavanaugh on Monday. “If yes, please list the dates, participants, location/venue, and amounts won/lost.”

Reading between the lines, Kavanaugh dismissed the request for details as overbearing (who can remember how much they won in a home game nearly two decades ago?), but he did say he likes playing one of America’s oldest and favorite pastimes, something that countless judges and lawmakers before him have admitted to doing.

“Like many Americans, I have occasionally played poker or other games with friends and colleagues,” Kavanaugh wrote. “I do not document the details of those casual games.”

Kavanaugh explained that the large amount of credit card debt was largely thanks to updates and repairs to his $1.25 million home in Maryland. The Trump Administration also claimed that he sunk a considerable amount of money into his love for attending Washington Nationals games, including the playoffs, with friends and family. Kavanaugh said that he and his wife currently have no other debt outside of their mortgage.

“Maintaining a house, especially an old house like ours, can be expensive,” the judge wrote. “I have not had gambling debts or participated in ‘fantasy’ leagues.”

Kavanaugh’s 2018 salary as a federal judge is $220,000. Additionally, he made nearly $30,000 as a Harvard Law School lecturer in 2017. In 2016, Kavanaugh had as much as $200,000 in debt from three credit cards and a Thrift Savings Plan loan, according to a financial disclosure report.

Kavanaugh denied ever receiving a W-2G for reporting gambling earnings. He denied ever reporting a gambling loss on his tax returns. He also shot down a specific question over whether he had “debt discharged by a creditor for losses incurred” in New Jersey (i.e. Atlantic City). Furthermore, he said he has never received treatment for a “gambling addiction.”

While the 53-year-old denied racking up gambling debt in the seaside gambling town, he admitted to playing blackjack decades ago. “I recall occasionally visiting casinos in New Jersey when I was in school or in my 20s. I recall I played low-stakes blackjack.”

Senators did not ask the judge whether he had gambled at any casino then owned by President Donald Trump, who nominated Kavanaugh to the high court in July.

There was one gambling-related response that reads as especially coy, just like his answers to some pointed questions about Supreme Court precedent.

Kavanaugh wrote in that 2001 email an apology to friends and colleagues for “growing aggressive after blowing still another game of dice.” In parentheses he wrote that he did not “recall” what had happened in the dice game. That “don’t recall” comment wasn’t explained.

Thanks to that email, Sen. Whitehouse asked for the full extent of his gambling for “monetary stakes” over the past 18 years and change, “including but not limited to poker, dice, golf, sports betting, blackjack, and craps.” Kavanaugh only partially answered that broad question.

He admitted to playing dice, but claimed there was no money or currency on the line. He replied in written form: “The game of dice referred to in that email was not a game with monetary stakes.”

His response didn’t account for non-monetary things that could be bet. Why would Kavanaugh lose his cool with nothing of value on the line? He did not dispute the notion that he had become hostile for whatever reason while playing dice.

A final vote on Kavanaugh’s nomination to the highest court in the land is expected for late September, with preliminary votes slated to begin next week, according to reports.

Here’s the document with his answers to the hundreds of written questions.