Seemingly every time that the issue of online gaming and/or poker has presented itself in the halls of Congress, the information that is presented is extremely short on facts and long on the “fears” of what a regulated industry might bring. Dating from the early 2000s, Congressional leadership and legislators have consistently shown that they have little to no clue about how a complicated behemoth such as “The Internet” operates, let alone the complicated issue of online gaming and poker. Any newcomers expecting anything different from the meeting of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security and Investigations would have been highly disappointed at yesterday’s hearing in Washington, D. C. and, for someone like this writer, it was the same old situation.
When the Big Guns Show Up, You’ve Got Attention
The start of the hearing regarding HR 707, “The Restoration of America’s Wire Act” (RAWA), brought out not only the members of the subcommittee but also the leaders of the overall House Judiciary Committee. The chairman of the Judiciary Committee, Virginia Republican Bob Goodlatte, and the ranking member of the Judiciary Committee, Michigan Democrat John Conyers, both offered welcomes to the witnesses assembled and entered their thoughts into the record. While Conyers’ comments weren’t surprising in voicing his opposition to the RAWA bill, it was Goodlatte’s statement that was a bit of a surprise.
Goodlatte, one of the longtime anti-online gaming and poker advocates in Congress, openly stated that he was against gambling and regulating such an industry on the federal level. In an intriguing aside, Goodlatte did admit that banning the practice outright federally – and not letting the individual states decide for themselves, as has been the course with any gaming laws or regulations – was problematic. It appeared that Goodlatte was, at the minimum, open to allowing the states to make the decision and COULD (but not likely) waver in the direction against RAWA.
Let The “Fear” Begin!
Following the statements from the two veteran Congressmen, the sponsor of RAWA, Utah Republican Jason Chaffetz, made one of the more ridiculous statements regarding his bill (reportedly written by lobbyists for casino magnate and Republican mega-donor Sheldon Adelson). Chaffetz actually tried to suggest that RAWA protected states’ rights in “protecting” states that didn’t want to allow the activity (such as his). He also railed against how the Department of Justice decision in 2011, which limited the Wire Act of 1961 to only sports betting, bypassed Congressional oversight, hence his introduction of RAWA.
Chaffetz wasn’t alone in letting the fear flag fly. Committee member Sheila Jackson Lee, a Democrat from Texas, rolled out the old chestnuts of how “illegal” gambling has long been in the purveyance of organized crime, money launderers and predatory gambling organizations. After the hysterics from Lee, the witnesses actually stepped forward for their presentations and escalated the “fear factor.”
It is difficult to say who was the least credible from the witnesses that converged in favor or RAWA. Professor Emeritus John Kindt of the University of Illinois School of Law actually tried to demonstrate that Russian President Vladimir Putin has the correct idea in banning websites, especially online gaming and poker. He also cited studies from the late 1990s (his own that have since been discredited) that stated the internet “could not be regulated” and that it was time to put the internet gaming and poker genie “back in the bottle.”
There was so much that was laughable about Kindt’s testimony that you would have to wonder about his mental ability to instruct students at the University of Illinois. Besides citing a nearly two-decade old study that has been disavowed, his hyperbole regarding the Russians and the usage of the Coalition to Stop Internet Gambling’s “click your mouse, lose your house” catchphrase (which he teamed with “click your phone, lose your home”) indicated that he either was on the payroll of the CSIG or that he hasn’t done any recent research on the area of internet security and regulatory practices, especially those in place in the three states that currently regulate online gaming and poker without issue.
Coming in a close second in the “fear” race was Les Bernal, the National Director for the Stop Predatory Gambling Foundation. In his testimony, he accused state-sponsored gambling of affecting society to its detriment. “The government has no business encouraging” its citizens to participate in gambling and, as such, RAWA should pass. Finally, wrapping up the “fear du jour” parade was Michael Fagan, who advocated for RAWA because law enforcement couldn’t effectively police the industry despite the fact that regulation actually puts in more law enforcement options than banning the industry.
There Were Some Bright Spots
There were two witnesses that stood against RAWA. Andrew Moylan, the Executive Director at R Street (a libertarian and conservative think tank), evoked memories of the government’s surveillance actions that were exposed by Edward Snowdon. The government is “too large and too powerful,” Moylan stated, and RAWA was an attempt to regulate “all wire or internet transmissions” as he explained his reasons for opposing the bill.
By far the star of the show – at least for those that are against RAWA – was Parry Aftab, the Executive Director of WiredSafety, who has been a staunch proponent of regulation of the industry. Granting the potential argument of problems with online gaming and poker, Aftab noted that none of those problems were occurring in New Jersey, Nevada and Delaware, where gaming is regulated heavily. She also shot down the terrorism arguments well, stating that all transactions were monitored by the regulated sites and reported to the IRS, something that a terrorist group wouldn’t want to do for bringing attention from the feds on their actions.
In a particularly poignant moment, Democratic committee member Cedric Richmond of Louisiana asked if RAWA would affect his state’s online lottery sales. Aftab bluntly stated that, if the bill passed, his state’s (and others) online lottery sales would “go offline.” When the question of Aftab’s assertion was addressed to the remainder of the witness panel, no one disagreed with her statement.
Where Do We Go From Here?
John Pappas, the Executive Director of the Poker Players Alliance, was the first to call for the death of RAWA. “Today’s hearing was about one thing – checking the box to advance Mr. Adelson’s bill. While the PPA has always encouraged a national discussion on the value of regulating online gambling, constructing a hearing at the behest of a political donor is an unfortunate waste of everyone’s time. This bill should die today, so members of the Committee can focus on more pressing matters, and not on legislation that will deny states the ability to protect its citizens.”
Chaffetz, who left the hearing shortly after making his comments at the start (and, thusly, didn’t even listen to the testimony of his hand-picked witnesses), accused those who believe he is in the pocket of Adelson of having no evidence to counter RAWA and, as such, attacking his credibility on the issue. He also declared that a “savvy 16 year-old” could beat the systems that have been established for security and regulation, but provided no evidence of such actions.
There was no action taken on RAWA during this hearing, but there are movements to take the bill to “markup” (amendment) before attempting to hold a vote on the bill. As such, it is key that poker players – both live and online, professional and amateur – stand up and hold their elected leaders accountable; when there is a lax moment, such situations as the original Unlawful Internet Gaming Enforcement Act and “Black Friday” can and will occur.