Back in March of 2014, as Senator Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) entered his fourth term as a member of Congress riding a wave of 72% voter support, he sought his first major legislative accomplishment.
Partnering with fellow conservative Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Chaffetz introduced a Senate Bill 2159, also known as the Restoration of America’s Wire Act (RAWA).
If passed, RAWA would effectively reverse a previous opinion issued in 2011 by the Department of Justice (DOJ), which interpreted the Wire Act of 1961 – a federal law used to ban online gambling – as applying exclusively to sports betting. The DOJ’s opinion paved the way for states to create online casino and poker industries – an invitation Nevada, New Jersey, and Delaware soon took them up on – and with RAWA, Chaffetz and Graham hoped to reverse that trend.
The original RAWA bill was backed by multibillionaire Las Vegas Sands casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, but despite a well-funded lobbying push, it failed to garner widespread support.
Chaffetz sought to revive RAWA in 2015 with HR-707, but once again the hardline anti-iGaming stance was roundly ignored by Congress.
Today, amidst industry fears that newly installed Attorney General Jeff Sessions may direct the DOJ to reverse its Wire Act opinion, Chaffetz has curiously bowed out of the proceedings.
On April 19, Chaffetz issued a statement via his personal Facebook page, announcing his intention to end his Congressional run when his current term elapses in 2018:
“Since late 2003, I have been fully engaged with politics as a campaign manager, a chief of staff, a candidate and as a Member of Congress. I have long advocated public service should be for a limited time and not a lifetime or full career.
Many of you have heard me advocate, ‘Get in, serve, and get out.’ After more than 1,500 nights away from my home, it is time. I may run again for public office, but not in 2018.”
The sudden announcement by Chaffetz – who currently serves as the chairman of the House Oversight Committee – sparked rumors that he would soon resign his Senatorial role altogether.
Chaffetz has become increasingly embroiled in the political scandals of President Donald Trump, due to perceived lack of interest in pursuing proper oversight of the executive branch.
Having crafted a reputation as a dogged defender of ethical norms as Oversight Committee chair when a Democrat occupied the White House, Chaffetz’ newfound reluctance to pursue meaningful investigations into the Trump administration has drawn criticism from both sides of the aisle.
On April 26, Chaffetz issued another social media announcement which fueled the resignation flames further.
Posting a photograph of his injured foot being X-rayed, Chaffetz informed his constituents that a fall from a ladder 12 years ago suddenly necessitated emergency surgery – a procedure which would require him to take a leave of absence from his Congressional duties:
“My recovery is expected to take three to four weeks. I’m sorry to miss the important work we are doing in Washington.
This is not an opportune time to be away but medical emergencies are never convenient. I appreciate my constituent’s patience and understanding as I take time to recover.”
For an online gambling community that has been intently following the RAWA drama since 2014, Chaffetz’ departure is undoubtedly good news. As one of the two primary actors pushing RAWA forward, along with Graham, Chaffetz played an integral role in keeping the unpopular legislation alive for this long.
With him effectively sidelined by self-imposed exile, online gambling’s fate now rests largely in the hands of Sessions and the DOJ.