Sheldon Adelson is a sneaky one. He is determined to push a federal ban on internet gambling at all costs, and he encourages his “friends” in Congress to move forward with his pet legislation at every opportunity. And when the nation is focused on something else – say a presidential election – an Adelson ally makes another attempt at the ban.
This friend was Senator Tom Cotton, and this attempt was a new bill. S.3376 was quietly introduced last week and dated September 21. It was read and referred quickly to the Committee on the Judiciary. The Congressional website merely stated this:
A bill to ensure the integrity of laws enacted to prevent the use of financial instruments for funding or operating online casinos are not undermined by legal opinions not carrying the force of law issued by Federal Government lawyers.
The Poker Players Alliance found Cotton’s filing and alerted the poker community on September 23.
Sen. Cotton seemingly attempting to undermine state regulated iGaming with introduction of RAWA like bill https://t.co/IAoK3h14u4— PokerPlayersAlliance (@ppapoker) September 23, 2016
A September Surprise
One might think that S.3376 sounds a bit like the Restoration of America’s Wire Act, the summary of which reads in more depth as follows:
Amends provisions of the federal criminal code, commonly known as the Wire Act, to provide that the prohibition against using a wire communication facility for the transmission of bets or wagers, wagering information, or wagering proceeds shall: (1) apply to any bet or wager (currently, to bets or wagers on any sporting event or contest); and (2) include any transmission over the Internet carried interstate or in foreign commerce.
States that nothing in this Act shall be construed to preempt any state law prohibiting gambling or to alter, limit, or extend: (1) the relationship between the Interstate Horseracing Act of 1978 and other federal laws currently in effect, (2) the ability of a state licensed lottery or state licensed retailer to make on-premises retail lottery sales or to transmit information ancillary to such sales, (3) the ability of a state licensed gaming establishment or a tribal gaming establishment to transmit information assisting in the placing of a bet or water on the physical premises of the establishment, or (4) the relationship between federal laws and state charitable gaming laws.
RAWA didn’t get very far in 2015 or 2016, despite the efforts of Congressional members and friends of Adelson like Rep. Jason Chaffetz. The latest attempt to push that bill came in May when failed US presidential candidate Senator Lindsey Graham tried to add RAWA language to a Senate Appropriations funding bill. Much like Graham’s career of late, that endeavor failed, too.
Cotton is no stranger to RAWA, as he was one of the co-sponsors of the bill in 2015. Fast forward to 2016 when he has no election campaign of his own and is mostly awaiting the November election to see what happens to the makeup of Congress. How does a Senator in a heavily-criticized body of government get noticed by people with power? Do something to impress a huge financial donor like Adelson.
But who is Tom Cotton? He is a newbie in the United States Congress. He is 39 years old and in the middle of his first term serving the state of Arkansas, thanks to the Republican Party. He was a Representative in the US House first, serving from 2013 to 2015 and then switched to a Senate race, which he won. Despite being the youngest person in the US Senate, he is also one of the most outspoken on a number of issues and is widely considered one of the rising stars in the Republican ranks.
RAWA Part Deux?
The PPA revealed additional information about the bill, though what is available thus far is not much. Added to the aforementioned paragraph, it notes that it is a “reaffirmation of prohibition on funding of unlawful internet gambling.” Further, it states, “The Memorandum Opinion for the Assistant Attorney General of the Criminal Division of the Department of Justice, dated September 20, 2011, shall have no force or effect for the purposes of interpreting section 5362(10) of title 31, United States Code.”
That refers to the 2011 decision by the DoJ to apply the Wire Act only to sports betting and exempt other forms of online gambling. Cotton’s bill would reverse that decision and essentially accomplish what RAWA intends to do.
Asked for a quick comment on the interpretation of S.3376, Rich Muny of the PPA said, “Cotton is a strident online poker opponent. He cosponsors RAWA and is now taking a shot at the DoJ interpretation of the Wire Act. Adelson is still spending a lot on lobbying for an online poker ban. And with Sen. Reid retiring, it seems like this year’s lame duck session will see a big push from Adelson for a ban.”
As the coming week begins, it will be interesting to see if Cotton’s bill has legs or makes any more movements.
Author note: It’s going to be tough to refrain from making any cotton swab jokes or refer to Cotton soaking up Adelson’s money. Oops.