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National Governors Association Tells Jeff Sessions to Back Off Federal Online Gambling Ban

As the Trump administration continues to consolidate around conservatives opposed to online gambling, bipartisan support for the right of states to control their own iGaming industries is growing.

In a letter dated April 3, the National Governors Association (NGA) wrote to Attorney General Jeff Sessions, expressing the group’s concern over recent efforts to revive RAWA – or the Restoration of America’s Wire Act.

That bill was introduced in 2014 by a pair of Republican Senators – Lindsey Graham (SC) and Jason Chaffetz (UT) – having been funded by billionaire conservative donor and land-based casino mogul Sheldon Adelson and his Coalition to Stop Online Gambling (CSOA) lobby group. After several incarnations of RAWA failed to gain traction and died amidst legislative debate, Sessions has brought his longstanding opposition to online gambling to the Department of Justice (DOJ).

During his recent Senate confirmation hearings, Sessions was asked about his position on the DOJ’s revised interpretation of 1961’s Federal Wire Act, which was released in 2011 and essentially limited the law to sports betting – not online casino, poker, lottery, or other games. Sessions said he was “shocked” by the DOJ decision, and that he would “revisit it or make a decision about it based on careful study” as Attorney General if confirmed.

This news, coupled with the Trump administration’s lack of commitment either way on iGaming issues, prompted the NGA to pen Sessions personally.

The letter was signed by Terry McAuliffe (D) – Governor of Virginia and chair of the NGA – and Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval (R), who serves as vice-chair.

In just a few sentences, the NGA clearly outlines a states’ rights argument in favor of leaving federal iGaming laws intact:

“The regulation of gaming has historically been addressed by the states. While individual governors have different views about offering gaming-in a variety of forms-within their own states, we agree that decisions at the federal level that affect state regulatory authority should not be made unilaterally without state input.

A strong, cooperative relationship between the states and federal government is vital to best serve the interests of all citizens.”

In 2013, Governor Sandoval signed a bill into law which made Nevada one of just three states – along with New Jersey and Delaware – to currently authorize online casino and poker sites. Dozens of states also operate, or allow operation of, online lottery services, which the NGA letter also asks Sessions to preserve.

The NGA letter showed that the group grasps the intricacies of iGaming legislation in 2017, pointing out that any federal ban would simply push American players to use unregulated offshore platforms:

“As you review this issue, we encourage you to take note of the current regulatory mechanisms put in place by the states to ensure that consumers and children are protected, and that licensees comply with strict standards of conduct.

States are best equipped to regulate and enforce online gaming. A ban drives this activity offshore to unregulated jurisdictions, out of the reach of state and federal law enforcement and with risk to consumers.”

Considering lack of support for RAWA in its earlier incarnations, on both sides of the aisle, that particular bill being revived and becoming viable isn’t necessarily a likely occurrence. Even so, the NGA is continuing its steadfast opposition of the bill, which began back in May of 2014 with a similarly worded letter sent to Congress.

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