What Will Happen At Next Week’s Rumored Congressional Hearing About RAWA?

Steve Ruddock December 2, 2015
Chaffetz RAWA

There are widespread rumors the House Oversight & Government Reform Committee will hold a hearing on December 9th to discuss the Restoration of America’s Wire Act, a bill that if enacted would prohibit online gambling in the United States.

The hearing doesn’t appear on the committee’s website, and hasn’t been confirmed by any of the key players, but according to the Poker Players Alliance’s John Pappas, the hearing is taking place:

Of course, even if it is slated to happen , it could still be cancelled.

The committee is chaired by RAWA sponsor Jason Chaffetz, who has been the Congressional point man for the RAWA legislation widely believed to have been crafted solely at the behest of Sheldon Adelson. Chaffetz introduced RAWA into the House of Representatives in 2014 and 2015; Senator Lindsey Graham introduced the senate version of RAWA in those same years.

Earlier hearing goes haywire

If it occurs, this will be the second congressional hearing for RAWA this year, with the first hearing, also chaired by Chaffetz, taking place in the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Terrorism, Homeland Security and Investigations back in March.

The general feeling at the time was the witnesses at the March hearing were the proverbial stacked deck, and the hearing would be decidedly pro-RAWA, which might increase support for the measure.

However, when the hearing was over, it was a consensus loss for RAWA supporters. Chaffetz’s three hand-picked witnesses were not just against online gambling, but all manner of gambling, including the forms that helped make Sheldon Adelson one of the richest men in the world, as well as politicians favorite form, state lotteries.

By the end of the hearing, only Parry Aftab, who was in favor of legalizing online gambling on consumer protection grounds, was regularly being questioned by committee members. The other so-called experts were deemed to be wearing no clothes by most of the committee.

What to expect at the December 9 hearing

One would think Chaffetz has learned quite a bit from the March hearing’s missteps, but so far RAWA supporters have proven a stubborn bunch, willing to stick to their talking points regardless of the evidence presented or how they’re received.

If the hearing happens, one would expect a similarly stacked witness list (although better selected) as Chaffetz will have final say on any of the witnesses that are present.

That being said, the hearing could still blow up in Chaffetz’s and RAWA supporter’s faces.

The House Oversight & Government Reform Committee is a large committee with 43 members; however, there are only three RAWA sponsors and cosponsors on the committee: Chaffetz, and Representatives John Mica and Trey Gowdy. While a lack of sponsorship doesn’t necessarily mean they wouldn’t support the bill, the odds are much better than they were heading into the March hearing.

Compare the 43 member committee with just three RAWA sponsors and/or cosponsors to the  16-member Judiciary subcommittee that hosted the March hearing, where five of the 16 members were RAWA sponsors or cosponsors in 2014 and/or 2015: Gowdy, Louie Gohmert, Randy Forbes, Cedric Richmond and of course Jason Chaffetz.

Problems could also arise if small government conservatives (several are on the committee) start asking questions about the bill infringing on states’ rights and the Tenth Amendment. It should be noted that despite his claims, Chaffetz’s Tea Party bona fides are often called into question.

Furthermore, Democratic members of the committee may raise the specter of Sheldon Adelson and crony capitalism. Looking at the committee members, there are a number of strong and not easily silenced Democrat voices on the committee, such as Elijah Cummings, Carolyn Maloney, Eleanor Norton-Holmes, Stephen Lynch and Peter Welch.

Another factor to consider is what states the members represent. Eight members hail from states with legal online gaming or online lottery (which RAWA could potentially wipe out), and seven other members represent states strongly considering such expansion.

Here is the full committee membership:

Republican Members

  • Jason Chaffetz
  • John Mica (RAWA cosponsor)
  • Michael Turner
  • John Duncan
  • Jim Jordan
  • Tim Walberg
  • Justin Amash
  • Paul Gosar
  • Scott Desjarlais
  • Trey Gowdy (RAWA cosponsor)
  • Blake Farenthold
  • Cynthia Lummis
  • Thomas Massie
  • Mark Meadows
  • Ron Desantis
  • Mick Mulvaney
  • Ken Buck
  • Mark Walker
  • Rod Blum
  • Jody Hice
  • Steve Russell
  • Buddy Carter
  • Glenn Grothman
  • William Hurd
  • Gary J. Palmer

Democratic Members

  • Elijah Cummings
  • Carolyn Maloney
  • Eleanor Holmes Norton
  • William Lacy Clay
  • Stephen Lynch
  • Jim Cooper
  • Gerald E. Connolly
  • Matt Cartwright
  • Tammy Duckworth
  • Robin Kelly
  • Brenda Lawrence
  • Ted Lieu
  • Bonnie Watson Coleman
  • Stacey E. Plaskett
  • Mark Desaulnier
  • Brendan F. Boyle
  • Peter Welch
  • Michelle Lujan Grisham

AG support dwindles

Something one would definitely expect to hear extolled by Chaffetz during the hearing is the short list of state attorneys general who have signed a letter in support of RAWA, a list that includes:

  • Nevada AG Adam Laxalt
  • South Carolina AG Alan Wilson
  • Missouri AG Chris Koster

However, Chaffetz is unlikely to put this list into its proper context.

Chaffetz will likely play up how these three important men support RAWA, but what he’ll likely leave out is the reduced support these letters have seen over the years, and the obvious juxtaposition that 47 attorneys general didn’t sign the support RAWA letter. And there’s this revelation today:

This is the third time state attorneys general have been prodded to sign a letter in support of a federal online gambling ban, and each time support has shrunk. Markedly.

In 2007, 43 attorneys general signed a letter opposing legislation that would ease restrictions on online gambling laws. A similar letter to the current one that made the rounds in 2014 reportedly maxed out at just 10 signatures.

It goes without saying that state level support for a federal prohibition of online gambling is eroding very quickly. In 2007, 86% of attorneys general supported a federal ban of online gambling. In 2015, only 6% of attorneys general publicly support a federal ban of online gambling.

Photo by Don LaVange used under license CC BY-SA 2.0

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