Nevada Attorney General Refines Stance on RAWA

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Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt attempted to appease some of his critics this week by penning his own letter to leaders of the United States House and Senate Judiciary Committees, a sort of supplement to the letter sent by several state Attorneys General supporting the Restoration of America’s Wire Act (RAWA).

As we have reported, Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster and South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson began circulating a petition amongst their fellow Attorneys General in October, asking them to sign-on to urge Congressional leaders to support RAWA. RAWA is a piece of pet legislation written by a lobbyist for Las Vegas Sands Corp. CEO Sheldon Adelson which would make most online gambling illegal in the U.S. Adelson has said he will do “whatever it takes” to eliminate online gambling, claiming he is trying to protect children and other vulnerable people, but he is quite obviously afraid that online gambling will take away business from his brick-and-mortar casinos.

In November, Laxalt told Jon Ralston on “Ralston Live” that he will add his name to the petition, which is curious considering Nevada is one of three states that has legalized and regulated online poker. RAWA would shut down the state’s internet gaming industry entirely. When Ralston asked him how he could support the bill when it violates Nevada’s right to make its own gambling laws, Laxalt said:

There’s a couple giant exceptions to this, alright? One is Congress spoke on this issue and had an existing Wire Act, ok? And then Attorney General Holder issued an opinion a few days before Christmas some years ago and changed that landscape. He changed that landscape without gaming companies, without law enforcement, without all the parties that should’ve been involved to make sure that we can keep consumers safe and all this can be done properly. So, I think obviously in this case we’re looking to return it back to what the status quo was, that Congress passed, and, you know, the other thing is obviously gaming is a different animal. You know, you have, you need to know where the sources of money are coming from and you need to make sure you can police this area.

Laxalt was roundly criticized by prominent Nevada officials, including Governor Brian Sandoval and Nevada Gaming Control Board Chairman A.G. Burnett.

Perhaps in an attempt to quell some of those criticisms, Burnett sent his own letter to further explain his thoughts on RAWA. He explained his objection to the Department of Justice’s clarification of the Wire Act in late 2011 thusly:

The impact of the 2011 Opinion was to dramatically narrow the interpretation of the Wire Act in a way that not only upended prior DOJ Criminal Division memoranda on the issue, but that effectively settled Wire Act interpretation and resulting enforcement actions across the U.S. in a manner best reserved to Congress. More precisely, the result of the 2011 Opinion was more akin to lawmaking than to legal interpretation by executive branch attorneys. So, while the DOJ surely has authority to provide interpretations of provisions of federal law for certain purposes, the impact of this particular interpretation went far beyond the narrow effect that such an interpretation would ordinarily have. Consequently, I believe it is time for Congress to review and clarify the Wire Act.

He went on to say that Nevada’s land-based casinos and gaming equipment providers rely on internet communications for many of their products and services, so he wants those technologies to be exempted from RAWA. Of course, he did not say that he supported online gambling (he wouldn’t be in favor of RAWA if he did).

One reasonable point Laxalt did make was to differentiate between licensed and unlicensed internet gambling and partially dispel the silly notion that legalizing online gambling will aid terrorism:

With regard to Nevada-licensed Internet gaming operators, both current and past, I am unaware of any evidence to suggest that the foregoing description applies. On the contrary, I would note that Nevada’s gaming regulatory agencies are the finest in the world and have required any person or entity, prior to deploying any Internet-based or related technology, to submit to exhaustive background and business probity investigations. I am confident in the work of Nevada gaming regulators to ensure the quality of Nevada gaming licensees. With regard to unlicensed Internet gaming, I share the potential concerns expressed in the RAWA Letter.

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