Gambling is an issue most lawmakers prefer to steer clear of.
Because of this, it shouldn’t be too much of a surprise so few federal lawmakers have come out in support of Internet gambling legalization over the years. The list of past and present adherents has about three names on it: Barney Frank (retired), Ron Paul (retired), and Joe Barton (R-TX).
The good news is that this cuts both ways, and the list of lawmakers publicly calling for a prohibition of online gambling is similarly short.
The reason for this apathetic approach to the issue is the complexity surrounding gambling.
- Gambling is considered a vice, yet brings in much-needed revenue.
- Gambling has been called a societal ill, yet people should be free to spend their money how they see fit.
- Gambling is a federal issue in some people’s minds and a state-level issue in others.
- Gambling is a job creator and a job killer depending on who you ask.
- Some forms of gambling are already legal, which makes calling for bans on other forms somewhat hypocritical.
Lawmakers on each side of the aisle harbor ideologies that make them both pro- and anti-gambling, and thus few lawmakers are willing to take a stand on this issue.
This is why the Poker Players Alliance and other poker advocates have such a difficult time rallying support in Congress, though part of the problem may be in their methods.
Online gambling doesn’t need a 50 state strategy
For these reasons I would suggest a politician-specific lobbying campaign.
A focused effort may be a better strategy than making blanket appeals. We need targeted strikes, not fire and forget. You don’t need to win all 50 states to be president, you only need to win Florida and Ohio.
Yes, a comprehensive approach requires little commitment, which makes it easy to mobilize members and contact politicians. But if we want to move past the status quo, it’s time to go for quality over quantity.
It’s time to turn some of the apathy into empathy.
The problem with the sweeping approach is two-fold:
- A lot of resources are wasted by talking to what amounts to a brick wall.
- Arguments are not person-specific.
Some lawmakers will simply never support gambling and they should be ignored. Telling Jason Chaffetz he should oppose a federal ban is futile unless your goal is to troll him.
A select few are already in gambling’s corner, and there need to be more of these if we’re ever going to get pro-regulation legislation introduced.
On the other hand, some may only support the issue when it comes time to vote, and these are the lawmakers who need to be educated on the issue.
These latter two groups are the lawmakers to be targeted with selective campaigns.
Target #1: Lawmakers from states with legal online gambling
Federal delegates who come from states where online gaming (poker, casino, and/or lottery) is already legal are the low-hanging fruit.
Being accused of being responsible for disrupting a revenue stream back home (not to mention undoing an industry that likely cost the state millions of dollars to get off the ground) is not the kind of campaign ad these politicians will want to see in their next race.
It’s easy to envision approaching a New Jersey member of Congress and explaining how their state received over $20 million in tax revenue, licensing fees, and income tax revenue from online gaming in 2014 alone. Furthermore, what about the hundreds of jobs online gaming has created in New Jersey?
The approach: Hit them with the facts and explain to them the revenue online gaming is bringing into their state, what it’s being used for, and what kind of investment the state has already made in online gaming.
Target #2: Lawmakers from states considering online gaming expansion
Let these lawmakers know how their constituents feel about the federal government pulling the rug out from under them.
For instance, a Pennsylvania politician might be interested to know that part of the reason to expand into online gaming is to keep their current casino industry healthy and competitive, and how it could also alleviate the state’s perpetually rising property taxes that are being used to fund the state’s education deficit.
The ads write themselves. “Why did Senator X vote to ban online gambling and cost Pennsylvania an estimated $28 million in tax revenue designated for education funding?”
The approach: Again, hit them with the facts and the data, and let them know where their state legislature currently stands on the issue.
Target #3: Lawmakers with strong Libertarian and states’ rights records
There are a number of members of Congress who feel the federal government has already overstepped its bounds, and a federal ban on online gambling is right in their wheelhouse of things that drives them absolutely bananas.
The online gambling debate has already created some strange bedfellows, and if anyone is going to take a vocal stand against an online gambling ban it would be politicians with strong libertarian streaks.
Ron Paul sums up their opposition to a federal ban perfectly in this video:
The approach: Simple. Hammer home the states’ rights angle to these politicians.
Target #4: Lawmakers who hate Sheldon Adelson
If you assume some lawmakers will vote for RAWA simply to gain favor with Sheldon Adelson, then it stands to reason there are lawmakers who would oppose it just to get under his skin and watch the bill fail.
Sheldon Adelson has poured millions of dollars into the campaign coffers of many lawmakers opponents over the years, and there are certainly plenty of them still in Congress who would be interested in learning about Adelson’s direct links to Jason Chaffetz’s RAWA legislation.
The approach: It’s all about crony capitalism when you’re talking to these lawmakers.
Target #5: Lawmakers who seem genuinely conflicted
During the RAWA hearing that took place in the House Judiciary Subcommittee last month, Representatives Bob Goodlatte, Sheila Jackson-Lee, and Cedric Richmond all seemed on the fence on this issue.
These are the lawmakers we need to get in touch with – in a respectful manner. Tweeting 140 character slogans at them nonstop is not going to do it, and may have the opposite effect.
We need to schedule time with them, write detailed letters to them, and make them aware of insightful articles on the topic of online gambling.
The approach: Be respectful and approach them with facts, even if this means leaving literature with their staff. Let them come to the issue on their own terms, but be there to answer any questions they might have.
Most of these lawmakers will remain quiet on the subject, but some might turn into vocal advocates for gaming regulation. All we need is a handful of these politicians to get a bill introduced, as long as we have enough silent proponents willing to vote “yea” on that bill.