As the number of states seeking to legalize and regulate online gambling continues to grow, political winds appear to have shifted against the most prominent legislative effort to ban the industry nationwide.
During the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in late February – the largest gathering of conservative political figures in the country – advocacy group and Washington D.C.-based think tank Institute for Liberty conducted a simple two-question poll.
Attendees were asked if they “oppose attempts by some in Congress to ban state-regulated online gaming,” and whether a “bill that would bar states from legislating the use of online gaming and selling lottery tickets online, is a violation of the Tenth Amendment and an example of crony capitalism.”
And per that polling, 91 percent of respondents oppose Congress intruding on states’ rights when it comes to online gambling, while 89 percent view such efforts as “crony capitalism.”
Known as the Restoration of America’s Wire Act (RAWA), the bill in question was introduced in 2015 by co-sponsors Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Representative Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) as a way of denying individual states the right to regulate online gambling.
The bill’s title refers to the Wire Act of 1961, a federal law which previously formed the basis for online gambling’s illegality – until the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) issued a revised interpretation in 2011.
That DOJ opinion held that “interstate transmissions of wire communications that do not relate to a ‘sporting event or contest’ fall outside the reach of the Wire Act,” thus limiting its scope solely to online sports betting. In the intervening years, three states – Nevada, New Jersey, and Delaware – have used the DOJ ruling as the basis for passing their own legislation to regulate online casinos and poker rooms.
Sheldon Adelson, the Las Vegas Sands casino magnate and billionaire patron of conservative politicians, has led a vocal lobbying campaign to restore the Wire Act and return to the previous federal prohibition.
By funding a lobbying group called the Coalition to Stop Internet Gambling (CSIG), and bestowing lavish campaign contributions to Congressmen like Graham and Chaffetz, Adelson has repeatedly attempted to push RAWA toward passage, ostensibly to limit competition for his massive brick and mortar casino empire.
Andrew Langer, president of the Institute for Liberty, issued a statement assailing Adelson’s ulterior motives for supporting RAWA:
“Conservatives see RAWA for what it is – one of the worst forms of crony capitalism in Congress today. RAWA is nothing short of an effort by one of the richest men in the world to ban a form of competition for his brick and mortar casino empire – and everyone knows it.
Worse yet, he is even willing to trample on the Constitution to do it.”
The polling provides confirmation of RAWA’s unpopularity with conservative voters, while the bill’s repeatedly stalled efforts within both houses of Congress suggest Republican lawmakers hold similar views.
Although RAWA has been derided as “dead” by iGaming industry watchdogs and D.C. insiders several times over, the inauguration of President Donald Trump and his elevation of Jeff Sessions to the position of Attorney General has brought the bill back to the forefront. During his Senate confirmation hearings, Sessions expressed “shock” at the DOJ decision and said he “opposed” the ruling.
Considering that position by Sessions, Langer viewed the recent poll as a message to Capitol Hill:
“Rank and file conservative voters reject the crony RAWA bill and will defend the Constitution from this Vegas-purchased onslaught on liberty. We will be vigilant opposing this bill.”