Florida Senator Marco Rubio is one of two Republican presidential candidates sponsoring Sheldon Adelson’s proposed federal online gambling ban, the Restoration of America’s Wire Act, or RAWA for short. South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham is the other.
But in a recent interview with the Las Vegas Review-Journal’s Editorial Board, Rubio indicated that he’d be open to adding yet another carveout to the bill, online poker. Rubio told the Las Vegas Review-Journal that because poker requires skill, he’d consider exempting it from the ban. “On the issue of Internet poker, the only difference between the poker games and the others is that it involves an element of skill associated with and compared with just a slot machine online,” Rubio told the LVRJ Editorial Board.
Rubio also said daily fantasy sports (another game of skill) is something that will need to be looked at down the road.
Oddly, Rubio also told the LVRJ that he was “concerned about particularly (Internet gaming’s) rapid expansion in an unregulated way.” This concern seems quite misplaced, as RAWA would prohibit states from legalizing and regulating online gaming, something that would only exacerbate Rubio’s concern and create a fertile breeding ground for unregulated operators to thrive in.
Adelson not interested in carveouts
However, despite Rubio’s comments, Adelson has stood firm on additional exemptions, and this latest declaration by Rubio doesn’t seem to be coming from Sheldon Adelson, the key figure pushing for RAWA. “There is no carve-out from the bill’s sponsors,” Las Vegas Sands Senior Vice President of Government Relations Andy Abboud told the LVRJ. “There may be some varying opinions from the co-sponsors, but there really isn’t any push for it.”
Abboud made similar statements when rumors swirled about a potential lottery carveout earlier this year, as the sponsor of RAWA’s House of Representatives version, Jason Chaffetz, clashed with state lottery officials. When the topic of a lottery carveout was broached by Gambling Compliance back in March, Abboud, speaking on behalf of Las Vegas Sands, said Adelson is “unlikely to accept exemptions.”
Does it really matter?
Rubio’s divergence from the proverbial company position is unlikely to have any impact on RAWA either way. RAWA appears to be little more than a lone man’s whim, and as Bill Pascrell III said at Global Gaming Expo 2015, lobbyists are simply cashing his checks and leading Adelson down the halls of Congress on a high-priced guided tour that will produce nothing in the way of actual results.
Additionally, if Pennsylvania is able to pass an online gambling bill this year, it could prove to be the RAWA tipping point, doubling the population of the United States that has access to legal online gaming overnight, and putting the final nail in the coffin of federal action.
An exemption too far
An online poker carveout wouldn’t be novel. RAWA already has several exemptions for:
- Horse racing
- Fantasy sports
- And certain charity games
These exemptions essentially limit RAWA’s reach to online casino, online poker, and online lottery – however, there seems to be no path forward for RAWA without a lottery exemption, so you can basically add that to the carveout category.
With or without these exemptions, RAWA seems like the longest of longshots – although, a recent development might move the needle a bit, as incoming Speaker of the House Paul Ryan has hired an Adelson lobbyist as his Chief of Staff: Dave Hoppe. That being said, it should be noted that what this means for RAWA at this point in time is sheer speculation.
RAWA’s inability to gain any momentum in Congress over the past two years has lead to several reports that a watered-down version of RAWA (a multi-year moratorium on future expansion while studies are conducted instead of a cut and dry prohibition) is being floated in its place.
With Rubio’s recent comments on online poker carveouts, RAWA and RAWA-lite falling on deaf ears, and pushback from virtually every corner of the political spectrum, there just doesn’t seem to be a path forward for RAWA.
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