When 2016 came to an end, American poker players could feel good about the work of the Poker Players Alliance in staving off attempts from Sheldon Adelson’s friends in Congress to ban online poker on the federal level. But the PPA did warn that there would be challenges in the coming months.
Even so, Adelson ended the year with the knowledge that he not only had a friend in Oval Office via Donald Trump, Adelson’s friend Senator Jeff Sessions was nominated to become the next US Attorney General, meaning he would have the power to overturn the 2011 Department of Justice decision regarding the Wire Act. His evil plan to outlaw online gaming was taking shape.
Graham and Sessions Give Hints about Priorities
In the second week of 2017, Congress held a hearing about Sessions and his qualifications for the position of US Attorney General. In an unexpected turn from vital issues facing the country, Senator Lindsey Graham asked Sessions about his position on the Wire Act and the 2011 DOJ decision, to which Sessions responded that he was shocked by the ruling to exempt online gambling and lotteries from the Wire Act. He claimed that he opposed it and would like to revisit it “based on careful study.”
It was no surprise that Graham asked the question, as he has sponsored more than one version of the Restoration of America’s Wire Act (RAWA) bills that have been introduced in the past several years. And Sessions was a known opponent of online gambling as far back as a 1997 federal attempt to ban it. Both have also been recipients of Adelson campaign funds and benefited from Adelson’s contributions to the GOP as a whole.
The PPA was quick to issue a statement in response to the hearing incident, noting that a move by Sessions to reverse the 2011 DOJ decision would be somewhat unprecedented and contrary to past presidential administration standards. The PPA also reiterated that the states now have the right to make their own gaming decisions, and that right should remain with the states.
Other groups soon emerged with their own similar statements. Nine of them cosigned a letter to Sessions and Vice President Mike Pence to urge the administration to refuse “special interest demands for a federal prohibition on internet gambling,” and those signing included representatives of the Institute for Liberty, Taxpayers Protection Alliance, Center for Freedom and Prosperity, and Competitive Enterprise Institute. More op-eds have appeared in the same vein on various media outlets across the country in the weeks that followed.
Campaign for Liberty to New Administration: Don't ban online gambling! – Campaign for Liberty https://t.co/LzlJfWLuQ8— PokerPlayersAlliance (@ppapoker) January 17, 2017
New Jersey Seeks to Protect Its Own
The above testimony regarding Sessions prompted action by New Jersey, the largest beneficiary thus far of the DOJ decision. Online poker and casino games have delivered more than $2.6 billion in 2016 revenue alone.
New Jersey Assemblyman Vincent Mazzeo introduced a resolution last week to urge the Trump Administration and Congress to oppose any attempt to ban internet gambling. The document explains that online gambling was authorized by New Jersey law in 2013 and has since greatly benefited the state, but a move by Sessions to reverse the DOJ decision would “directly and negatively impact New Jersey by dismantling investments that the State and the casinos have already made, taking away the economic and employment opportunities already realized by the State and its residents, and foreclosing the future potential of internet gaming to generate tens of millions of dollars in tax revenue, create high-tech software jobs, and foster valuable business ventures for Atlantic City casinos.”
The move is one that will likely be passed by the legislature and forwarded to the addressees in the hope of staving off an extensive and expensive court battle, which would be the result of a Sessions Wire Act ruling reversal. The judicial system would have to ultimately decide the fate of the industry, but any progress for other states would likely be curtailed in the meantime. The courts would likely rule that New Jersey, along with Nevada and Delaware, would be able to continue business as usual during the proceedings, but that would be a small consolation for the legal battles that would ensue.
Ball is in Sessions’ Court
Sessions will likely be confirmed this week, as there are enough votes to secure his role as the new US Attorney General. His agenda from that point forward will likely focus on priorities as dictated by President Trump, but he could technically move on the Wire Act decision at any point in time.
Meanwhile, Adelson is likely pushing members of Congress to do his bidding with another version of RAWA, as a federal ban would be more concrete and final than an AG interpretation of an outdated law. In recent years, Graham has done his bidding in that category, as have Senators Mike Lee and Tom Cotton, and Representatives Jason Chaffetz and Mike Fitzpatrick.