United States President-Elect Donald Trump and Vice President-Elect Mike Pence are still more than a month from officially taking office, but the anti-online gambling forces are already pushing for action from the new administration.
The official letter from ten state attorneys general was sent to Pence and the Trump transition team on November 17, but it was only made public days ago by the Poker Players Alliance (PPA). That means the highest legal representatives of ten states felt so passionate about online gambling that they sent coordinate efforts to compose and send the letter only nine days after the US elections.
The Letter to Start the Ball Rolling
In a dramatic and ominous letter, the group of attorneys general reflected on the 2011 Department of Justice decision regarding the 1961 Wire Act, essentially ruling that the law applies only to sports betting, not online poker, gambling, or fantasy sports. According to the letter, this happened “in the dark of night on Christmas 2011” (actually December 23) and opened the door to “expansive internet gambling and exposed states to the significant negative impacts that often accompany online gambling.”
The letter continued: “The risks to our citizens are real and extensive.” They addressed underage gambling, fraud and identity theft, money laundering, cybercriminal operations, and gambling addictions with exaggerated information and fear mongering. “Anonymity is the internet’s greatest weapon,” they said.
They requested that the Trump administration overturn the Department of Justice interpretation of the Wire Act and “undo the dangerous precedent set by the Obama administration” when the DOJ “ignored the rule of law.” Additionally, they mention that Congress has the right to debate the issue because the American people elected them to do just that.
In essence, the attorneys general want the DOJ decision overturned in order to stop online gambling operations in New Jersey, Nevada, and Delaware, as well as to prevent other states like Pennsylvania, Michigan, New York, California, and Massachusetts from following suit. If this happens, it could build momentum for Senate Republicans to push the latest online gambling ban. That version of the Restoration of America’s Wire Act (RAWA) was introduced several months ago by Senators Tom Cotton, Lindsey Graham, and Mike Lee.
For the record, the attorney generals who signed the letter are:
- Jeff Landry (Louisiana)
- Bill Schuette (Michigan)
- Doug Peterson (Nebraska)
- Adam Laxalt (Nevada)
- Wayne Stenehjem (North Dakota)
- Scott Pruitt (Oklahoma)
- Alan Wilson (South Carolina)
- Marty Jackley (South Dakota)
- Ken Paxton (Texas)
- Sean Reyes (Utah)
The PPA Strikes Back
Rich Muny is the Vice President of Player Relations for the PPA and didn’t hesitate when PokerUpdate asked him to weigh in on the letter:
“This letter is disappointing. President-elect Trump and VP-elect Pence said they would ‘drain the swamp,’ yet one of the first things we see is this push to reward mega-donor Sheldon Adelson with crony capitalism legislation that bans his online competition. In fact, Pence pushed for a ban even before the election. So much for draining the swamp.
“RAWA is a bad idea. It would reduce individual liberty while infringing on the ability of states to protect its citizens. In trying (and failing) to make Adelson’s case, the AG letter attempts to conflate offshore internet gaming with state-licensed internet poker. It also relies on factually incorrect hyperbole. State-authorized poker websites block for age and location. There are no documented cases of underage or out-of-state play, yet the letter pushes an unsubstantiated narrative of underage ‘gambling additions (sic).’ Where is their evidence? Why have they not produced a single underage or out-of-state player in all these years? Factual, actual, data-based ‘gambling addition’ shows the total number of underage and out-of-state players on state-licensed poker websites to be zero.
“I encourage the poker community to make sure lawmakers know we demand the right to play poker on safe, regulated sites. Please be sure to participate in the Poker Daily Action Plan, and please send PPA’s all-new prewritten, fully editable letter to Congress and the president today. It takes just 60 seconds to send!”
Dangers Lurking in Lame Duck
The letter should serve as a warning that the anti-online gambling fighters and everyone associated with Sheldon Adelson are ready to strike. They had no opportunity to fight the DOJ decision during the Obama administration, and the timing for RAWA in Congress never seemed right. The attempt they made to attach it to a budget bill earlier in 2016 failed.
However, Adelson’s friends are now packing their bags for Washington, D.C. Trump and Pence are likely to want to make Adelson happy, as are many in the Republican-led Senate and House of Representatives who have benefited from the millions of dollars Adelson has donated to the GOP. Keep in mind, also, that Adelson is not getting any younger or healthier, and he likely wants to make sure the ban happens sooner rather than later.
There is a strong possibility that Adelson’s forces will attempt a RAWA attachment to a must-pass bill during the lame duck session of Congress. However, if that fails, Adelson will push harder than ever for the reversal of the DOJ decision as well as RAWA so there will be no confusion as to where the US government stands.