Nice Try, RAWA: Online Gambling Ban Language Fails In U.S. House Appropriations Bill

May 25, 2016
Nice Try, RAWA: Online Gambling Ban Language Fails In U.S. House Appropriations Bill

The U.S. online poker community has been on high alert ever since Senator Lindsey Graham added anti-online gambling language to an appropriations bill passed earlier this month by the United States Senate.

Graham’s support for an online gambling ban wouldn’t have the force of law if the bill was passed, but several watchdog groups noted it could open the door for a last-minute amendment to the bill that would ban online gambling; an amendment that would occur too late in the process to be stricken from the bill.

It would take a perfect storm of parliamentary maneuvering for Graham’s anti-online gambling language to become law. But the threat was there, as Graham managed to get the following passage written into the Senate version of the bill:

“Since 1961, the Wire Act has prohibited nearly all forms of gambling over interstate wires, including the Internet. However, beginning in 2011, certain States began to permit Internet gambling. The Committee notes that the Wire Act did not change in 2011. The Committee also notes that the Supreme Court of the United States has stated that ‘‘criminal laws are for courts, not for the Government, to construe.’’ Abramski v. U.S., 134 S.Ct. 2259, 2274 (2014) (internal citation omitted).”

Fortunately, it all fell apart for the Graham, and other like-minded politicians on Tuesday, when the House of Representatives failed to include the same type of anti-online gambling language in its version of the appropriations bill. However, this failure was not for a lack of effort.

Rep. Charlie Dent (R-PA) did try, but ultimately failed, to get similar language included in the House version on Tuesday:

Is this the death of RAWA?

Myself and others have declared RAWA dead several times over, but truth be told, the bill won’t officially die until another populous state legalizes online gambling, thereby creating a tipping point of sorts for legalized online gambling in the country.

Congressional supporters of the Sheldon Adelson-inspired Restoration of America’s Wire Act (RAWA) bill have tried to pass RAWA at several different points over the past two years, but have failed each time. With little support on either side of the aisle, RAWA advocates have mainly resorted to a UIGEA approach, as they’ve tried to get the bill included in a larger, must-pass, piece of legislation.

Until legalized online gambling is passed (perhaps in Pennsylvania, New York, Michigan or California) there is always a RAWA threat looming; there is always a big piece of legislation that RAWA could weasel its way into.

Vigilance is required

I’m not overly concerned about RAWA (considering the bashing the bill has taken during hearings and the tremendous amount of opposition to the bill from all corners of the political spectrum). However, I’m also pragmatic, and even if you’re up by four touchdowns with just eight minutes left to play in the fourth quarter, you don’t stop playing defense.

In its most recent letter of opposition, a coalition of right-wing and libertarian groups noted the bipartisan opposition:

“The RAWA legislation was met with strong bipartisan opposition ranging from free market and limited-government organizations like ours to organizations like the National Governor’s Association, the National Conference of State Legislators and the North American Association of State & Provincial Lotteries. As such, the bill failed to move past the  committee hearing stage.”

The coalition also noted the legislative chicanery RAWA advocates have attempted to use to get their way:

“This clearly is an attempt to circumvent regular order in the House and Senate. We are deeply concerned that this language has been inserted to be used as a placeholder for “air dropping” RAWA in a conference report, whether it be the CJS Appropriations bill, an Omnibus or a Continuing Resolution, as a way to deny the American people the ability to have their direct say in a fundamental legislative shift that limits individual rights. The  process of regular order safeguards those rights by allowing for an open and meaningful discussion to occur.”

The bottom line is this: RAWA may be a long shot, but it’s not a laughing matter.

The best way to ultimately defeat RAWA is for more states to pass legislation legalizing online gambling.

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