The surprising surge of Donald Trump in the GOP primary may cause regulated online gambling to unexpectedly emerge as an issue at the first Republican presidential debate.
Who, when and where for the debate
The debate is slated for August 6 at 9 p.m. Eastern. It will take place at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, and it will be aired on Fox News.
The Republicans who will be invited to the debate will be the top “10 candidates in an average of 5 national polls.”
The one candidate who is most clearly opposed to online gambling — South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham — does not currently make the threshold for joining the debate. He is the sponsor of the Senate version of the Restoration of America’s Wire Act, a bill that would ban regulated online gambling.
How the eligible candidates intersect with online gambling
If anyone is going to have a contrarian approach to online gambling in the Republican field, it would be Trump. His connections to the world of casinos are well known, so he obviously is not going to oppose iGaming on moral grounds.
Trump’s interest in pushing buttons – and grabbing headlines – could motivate him to raise the question how Adelson’s financial clout intersects with the federal push to ban regulated online gambling.
That line is especially likely to be deployed if Trump is forced to play defense in the face of coordinated attacks from a sizable chunk of the participants – a scenario that seems plausible in the wake of Trump’s recent comments regarding Sen. John McCain.
And as you’ll see below, Trump could conceivably wield the Adelson cudgel against nearly half the field – making it a uniquely effective tool for deflection.
Sen. Marco Rubio (Florida)
Rubio has been accused of attempting to “curry favor” with Adelson via the Senator’s support of RAWA.
On several occasions, Rubio has said he opposes opportunities to expand other forms of gambling.
Gov. Chris Christie (New Jersey)
While Christie signed the bill that allowed regulation of online gambling in New Jersey, he reportedly explained the decision (one contrary to Adelson’s preference) by claiming that his veto would have been overridden.
Former Gov. Mike Huckabee (Arkansas)
Huckabee comes down squarely in Adelson’s camp as a vocal opponent of online gambling.
Sen. Rand Paul (Kentucky)
Paul is one of the few Republicans that has publicly opposed an online gambling ban.
Gov. Scott Walker (Wisconsin)
Walker has received donations from Adelson in the past but does not to our knowledge have a strongly expressed opinion on iGaming.
Sen. Ted Cruz (Texas)
Cruz has never said anything for or against online gambling.
But Cruz is a key figure in the Tea Party movement, which likes to keep the federal government out of the business of individuals and states. It would be hard for him to reconcile a federal law preventing states from allowing online gambling.
Gov. Rick Perry (Texas)
Perry is a RAWA supporter, likely in any form the bill would take.
He wrote a letter to Congress last year calling for a”‘time-out” for online gaming “by restoring the decades-long interpretation of the Wire Act.”
Former Gov. Jeb Bush (Florida)
The front-runner has never actually addressed the topic of online gambling. But he is on the record as being against gaming expansion in general.
It is possible he would be for RAWA in its current form, but it seems even more likely he would support a moratorium on gaming expansion, like a revised RAWA would provide for.
Online Poker Report took a look at how a Bush administration would view online gambling. At a recent town-hall style meeting in Nevada, Bush said, “I’m not a big gambler so I don’t know any gambling.”
The stance of the former neurosurgeon on many issues is unknown. But Carson is generally very conservative on social issues.
It’s hard to believe he wouldn’t come down on the side of stopping or eliminating online gambling.
Will online gambling even come up?
It seems difficult to believe that online gambling would be addressed at the very first debate.
The subject of online gambling is not currently a hot-button issue. There are far more pressing topics that the candidates would like to address, and that the public and media would like to hear them speak about.
At the same time, the subject has gained a bit of traction of late.
A new approach has been floated for RAWA. Instead of initiating a ban on online gaming, the bill could be revised to call for a study on internet gambling and institute a moratorium on iGaming expansion. That would effectively stop states — like California and Pennsylvania — from passing legislation.
There is also a little more political clout behind RAWA and the online gaming issue.
Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) and former Sen. John Breaux (D-La.) are now a part of the Coalition to Stop Internet Gambling. That’s the lobbying group started by casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, the driving force behind the effort to ban iGaming.
Still, it seems far more likely that the subject would come up in a later debate. There are four debates scheduled for this year, alone, and many more at the start of 2016, before primary season begins.
Adelson, a big Republican donor, also hasn’t publicly backed any candidate. Seeing as this is one of his pet issues — along with U.S. relations with Israel — we have to imagine the subject will make into a debate at some point.
If the candidates are asked about regulated online gambling…
If the issue does come up, how will the candidates respond?
It’s not a slam dunk that all of the candidates would come out in favor of an online gambling ban. While some in the party are against the expansion of gaming in any form, many are also staunch advocates of states’ rights.
RAWA would affect what states can do moving forward, so candidates could be split on the issue.
At the same time, any candidate who is in need of raising funds might tackle the topic in a way that Adelson would approve of.
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