More than four years have passed since Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) first attempted to reinstate the federal online gambling ban, but despite several stalled efforts, he’s poised to try again in 2019.
Per an exclusive report published by iGaming industry news outlet Gambling Compliance, Graham plans to ask William Barr – recently nominated by President Donald Trump to become the next United States Attorney General – to clarify his stance on a crucial federal law known as the Wire Act of 1961.
The Wire Act prohibits the use of wire and telephonic communication to conduct sports wagering across interstate lines. The law was originally authorized by President John F. Kennedy to prevent underground “bookies” from doing business over the phone, but with the advent of internet casinos, poker rooms, and sportsbooks at the turn of the century, the Wire Act was eventually interpreted as a prohibition on all forms of online gambling.
That interpretation was issued by the Department of Justice (DOJ) in 2002. In late 2011, however, the DOJ issued a memorandum clarifying that the Wire Act applies only to sports betting – paving the way for the current era of regulated online gambling began by states like Nevada and New Jersey in 2013.
Graham is expected to become the next chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, giving him full authority to question Barr during the latter’s upcoming confirmation hearing before taking over the DOJ.
Speaking to Gambling Compliance, Graham confirmed his intent to grill Barr about his position regarding the Wire Act’s purview:
“This will be one of the first things I will talk to Mr. Barr about.”
The sight of Graham questioning prospective Attorney General candidates over the Wire Act is old hat for Congressional observers.
Back in March of 2014, Graham introduced a bill originally known as the Internet Gambling Control Act, and later termed the Restoration of America’s Wire Act (RAWA). The legislative effort was spearheaded by Sheldon Adelson, with the billionaire casino mogul and owner of the Las Vegas Sands corporation parlaying his influence as major conservative donor. Adelson later launched the Coalition to Stop Internet Gambling (CSIG) to lobby lawmakers on Capitol Hill and in state legislatures.
At the time, Graham framed his RAWA movement as necessary pushback to the DOJ’s 2011 decision:
“This is yet another example of the Holder Justice Department and Obama Administration ignoring the law.
In 1999, South Carolina outlawed video poker and removed over 33,000 video poker machines from within its borders.
Now, because of the Obama Administration’s decision, virtually any cell phone or computer can again become a video poker machine. It’s simply not right.”
The RAWA bill, and its various iterations introduced every year since, consistently failed to gain traction within Congress.
Accordingly, Graham has taken his campaign straight to the source, questioning Loretta Lynch during her own Attorney General confirmation hearings in 2015. Following a rebuff from Lynch, Graham asked then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions which way he leaned on the Wire Act during Senate Appropriations Committee hearing this year.
As part of that questioning, Graham offered the following appraisal of the DOJ’s revised opinion:
“Senator Feinstein and I are very worried that this bizarre interpretation of the Wire Act by the Obama administration is going to lead to holy hell ungoverned spaces when it comes to internet gambling.”
Despite the pledge from Graham to revisit his RAWA crusade, regulated online gambling has garnered a bipartisan coalition of defenders throughout the years.
The Democratic Governors Association (DGA), Fraternal Order of Police (FOP), National Conference of State Legislators (CSL), National Governors Association (NGA), and North American Association of State & Provincial Lotteries (NAASPL) are among the national organizations to oppose recent RAWA bills.
And in March of this year, Representative Diane Titus (D-1) of Nevada penned a letter to the DOJ defending an individual state’s right to regulate iGaming as it sees fit.