Another Year Means Another Futile Attempt At Banning Online Poker

January 10, 2018
Another Year Means Another Futile Attempt At Banning Online Poker


Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: A small contingent of Congressional members is asking the Department of Justice to overturn a 2011 opinion that allowed states to legalize online gaming within their borders.

Since assuming the position of Attorney General, Jeff Sessions has been bombarded by requests to throw out the 2011 Department of Justice Office Of Legal Counsel opinion that set in motion the state-by-state legalization efforts.

The anti-gambling Sessions seems like the perfect person for the anti-online gambling crowd to woo on this front. During his confirmation hearing Sessions was asked about the OLC opinion by Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and said it was a matter he would consider revisiting.

So far, Sessions hasn’t gotten around to online gambling, but that doesn’t mean he won’t. Even if it means getting into a 10th Amendment war with a number of states – something Sessions seems willing to do considering his recent marijuana decree.

Since the opinion, Delaware, Nevada, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania have legalized online gambling.

Six states have also legalized online lottery:

  1. Illinois
  2. Georgia
  3. Michigan
  4. Kentucky
  5. New Hampshire
  6. Pennsylvania

But that hasn’t stopped the online gaming prohibitionists from trying.

This year’s efforts

A letter from Nebraska Governor Pete Rickets was sent to Sessions in May. Rickets letter was sent in response to a National Governor’s Association (NGA) letter that urged the new AG to leave the issue of online gambling up to the states.

In July, Senator Mark Warner (D-VA) wrote to Sessions in support of a federal online gambling ban.

In November, Senators Diane Feinstein (D-CA) and Lindsey Graham sent a similar letter to the DOJ.

In December, four members of the House of Representatives, Daniel Donovan (R-NY), Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA), Tom Garrett (R-VA), and Louie Gohmert (R-TX) followed suit, asking the DOJ to reverse the 2011 opinion.

The problem with all these letters is Sessions recused himself from online gambling matters after he hired an attorney that also works for an anti-online gambling lobby group.

Previous efforts date back over a decade

Previous attempts to ban online gambling go back over a decade.

In 2007, 43 attorneys general sent a letter of opposition to Congress opposing proposed legislation to legalize online gambling.

A new wave of opposition

But the prohibitionists didn’t truly find their voice until 2014, which happened to coincide with Sheldon Adelson’s announcement that he would “spend whatever it takes” to stop online gambling.

Shortly after the announcement, Adelson created the Coalition to Stop Internet Gambling and stocked it with well-known politicos as co-chairs who made the flimsy case against online gambling to anyone who would listen.

With Adelson’s support and financing, letters from attorneys general picked back up, but support for a federal prohibition has been severely eroded:

  • 2007 letter opposing federal legalization efforts: 86 percent (43 out of 50)
  • 2014 letter calling on Congress to prohibit online gambling: 30 percent (15 out of 50 + Guam)
  • 2015 letter calling on Congress to prohibit online gambling: 16 percent (eight out of 50)
  • 2016 letter calling on Congress to prohibit online gambling: 20 percent (10 out of 50)

In addition to the attorneys general, no less than five governors penned letters supporting a federal prohibition of online gambling in 2014.

The list includes:

History of RAWA

There were also legislative efforts.

From 2014-2017, legislation (the Restoration of America’s Wire Act or RAWA) was introduced seeking to prohibit online gambling at the federal level. The legislation led to several hearings, but support for the bans has been fleeting.

RAWA 2014 was introduced by Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) in the House and Sen. Graham in the Senate. The bill gained a little bit of traction during the lame duck session at the end of 2014 but was ultimately scuttled.

RAWA 2015 was more of the same. Same sponsors. Same rhetoric. And the same failure. The bill’s fate was cemented following disastrous (for its backers) March and December hearings in 2015.

RAWA was never officially reintroduced in 2016, but it made a brief reappearance late in the session before being tossed into the garbage bin.

By 2017, online gaming opponents had fully shifted away from legislative efforts like RAWA, instead focusing on overturning the OLC opinion.

So far they’ve had the same level of success with both strategies.

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