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Scoreboard: Online Gambling Supporters Had a Big Week

If you happen to be a supporter of legalized online poker, last week was a very good week. So good in fact that if your name is Sheldon or Andy, or you happen to have your heart set on seeing online gambling banned, you may want to stop reading right now.

It was an amazing turnaround, considering last Monday you were likely filled with consternation and anxiety that a federal online gambling ban was starting to look like a real possibility.

In the immediate aftermath of the midterm elections, Republicans cemented their hold on Congress by gaining control of the United States Senate, and speculation was rampant that Sheldon Adelson’s Restoration of America’s Wire Act (RAWA) bill might have a chance to pass during the Lame Duck session.

The campfire was buzzing with news, ranging from a hearing in the House Judiciary Committee (where a full 11 of the 39 members have co-sponsored RAWA), to Harry Reid possibly being in talks with John Boehner and looking to cut a deal on iGaming, to the possibility of RAWA getting attached to a piece of important legislation in much the same manner that UIGEA was passed in 2006.

On top of that, you had Andy Abboud speculating to Gambling Compliance and to Jon Ralston that something could happen this year or perhaps next year, “the die is cast… the cake is baked,” Abboud claimed.

And then everything changed. It felt as if the opposing team (Adelson and CSIG) were marching down the field ready to punch the ball into the end zone for the game-winning score when the quarterback threw a pick six.

So what changed?

Opponents (old and new) of RAWA came out of the woodwork last week, beginning with former Texas Congressman Ron Paul and climaxing on Thursday with Grover Norquist and 10 other conservative groups calling out RAWA’s hypocritical and misleading aims in a letter to addressed to Congress.

Grover Norquist and the conservative pushback

The letter sent to the leaders of Congress on both sides of the aisle (current Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid; current Senate Minority leader Mitch McConnell; Speaker of the House John Boehner; and House Minority leader Nancy Pelosi) was the proverbial nail in the coffin for RAWA, at least during the remainder of the Lame Duck session in 2014.

According to Poker Players Alliance (PPA) Vice President of Player Relations Rich Muny, Norquist, widely considered one of the most powerful and influential men in Republican politics, has long held the position that the federal government should not get involved in online gambling (Norquist feels this is an issue that should be decided by the states) but the letter is his first real public position on the matter.

In the letter, first reported by the Washington Post, Norquist and company point out the obvious inconsistency opponents of online gambling seem to overlook when they talk about the Wire Act and online gambling:

While RAWA supporters contend that this legislation is a simple fix to 53 year old Wire Act legislation on sports betting, RAWA attempts to apply federal sports betting regulations to online gambling – even though this legislation was created decades before the invention of the internet.”

The letter goes on to highlight the 10th amendment ramifications of a federal ban:

“The states have always led the way in regulating gambling and that is why a diverse coalition of organizations … have already spoken out against this legislation.

“Regardless of your personal opinions on gambling, we encourage you to preserve the authority of the states to prohibit or regulate gambling as the 10th Amendment directs.”

The letter also hit on Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) fellow Michelle Minton’s insightful analysis of the Wire Act’s history and application. Minton penned a follow up column herself later in the week which she titled, “Adelson’s Online Gambling Ban Losing Political Steam.”

The full text of the letter sent by the 11 groups can be seen here.

Online gambling is certainly outside of Norquist’s bread & butter issue, taxes, but even though he can’t wave a pledge in their face when it comes to online gambling, I cannot recall an issue Grover Norquist publicly opposed that gained any kind of serious Republican support.

Ron Paul and the Libertarian point of view

Norquist and company’s opposition was the feather in the cap, but the week started off with former congressman and libertarian champion Ron Paul penning a blistering column on his personal website, RonPaulInstitute.org, reiterating his opposition to a federal online gambling ban which he first expressed on Rich Muny’s Poker Advocacy podcast just a few weeks ago.

Paul’s column not only expressed his dismay at what he feels is overreach by the federal government, but also the blatant cronyism that is on display, as he considers RAWA to be little more than politicians doing the bidding of Sheldon Adelson, going so far as to title the piece: “Internet Gambling Ban: A Winner for Sheldon Adelson, A Losing Bet for the Rest of Us.”

“… Cronyism is where politicians write laws aimed at helping their favored business beneficiaries. Despite public opposition to cronyism, politicians still seek to use the legislative process to help special interests.

“For example, Congress may soon vote on legislation outlawing Internet gambling. It is an open secret, at least inside the Beltway, that this legislation is being considered as a favor to billionaire casino owner, Sheldon Adelson.”

House hearing scuttled

Following Paul’s column and likely being well aware of the impending letter by the 11 conservative and libertarian groups, the unofficially announced hearing on the Restoration of America’s Wire Act (RAWA) that was to be held in the House Judiciary Committee was cancelled.

RAWA is certainly not dead, it could still be acted upon or potentially attached to another piece of legislation, but by Friday it seemed far more unlikely that RAWA would see the light of day in 2014 than it did on Monday.

 

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Steve Ruddock

Steve is veteran of the the poker industry, first as a player and now as a writer focusing mainly on the regulated U.S. markets and the politics of poker. Follow Steve on Twitter @SteveRuddock and at Google+.

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