In what has been a surprising move (considering how late in the legislative session the action comes and the lack of previous interest in the subject), Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas has filed a bill on the Senate agenda that looks to be taking up the action of either banning online gaming and poker or putting some teeth into the law that is used against the industry, the Unlawful Internet Gaming Enforcement Act (UIGEA) of 2006.
Cotton’s bill, which was filed on Friday afternoon, is S. 3376 and it has been filed with the Senate Committee on the Judiciary, meaning it is eligible for debate and, if it should occur, voting for its passage. The bill’s title is a bit meandering but it firmly states it is “(A) bill to ensure the integrity of laws enacted to prevent the use of financial instruments for funding or operating online casinos are not undermined by legal opinions not carrying the force of law issued by Federal Government lawyers.”
Deciphering the legalese, S. 3376 has potentially several different interpretations. One is that it would look to reverse the Christmas 2011 decision by the Department of Justice that the Wire Act only applied to sports betting and no other online activities, such as casino gaming and poker. That decision, handed down in response to the states of Illinois and New York’s inquiries as to the legality of using the internet for online lottery sales, opened the doors for intrastate online gaming operations that came about in Nevada, New Jersey and Delaware and those being considered in other states such as California, Pennsylvania and New York.
Another potential interpretation could be in that it is looking to expand the Wire Act, reworking it in a manner to make it more applicable to today’s fast-paced world. It could also be a bill that will firmly prohibit using credit/debit cards for gambling transactions, whether they are legal (as in a Las Vegas casino) or illegal. Finally, it could actually put some enforcement action into the UIGEA, which was passed with no punishments nor enforcement actions taken.
Why is there so much indecision on what the bill contains? That’s because the bill actually hasn’t been written as of yet. S. 3376 basically has a title and a placeholder with the Judiciary Committee, but there isn’t anything written as to what the bill would pertain – nothing has been filed with the Government Publishing Office. That is making many in the gaming industry a bit nervous, especially the online gaming community.
The second measure – the expansion of the Wire Act – is where many online gaming and poker aficionados are taking up their figurative arms. Sheldon Adelson, the Las Vegas Sands Corporation founder and Chief Executive Officer whose efforts against online gaming and poker regulation are well known, hasn’t previously been known to have any connection to Cotton. It seems that in lacking a candidate for the Presidential race, however, Adelson is showering Senators with contributions. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell – OK, a Super PAC that supports him – has been the beneficiary of a $20 million gift from the casino mogul. Cotton is an up-and-coming Republican who could be looking for future support by picking up a pet project of Adelson’s.
There is also the question of why a bill such as S. 3376 would be filed so late in the legislative session (all bills that haven’t been passed by the end of December will “die” with the end of the Congressional Session). The simple answer is that, by simply having it in the record, it can now be added as a “rider,” potentially to another bill that has importance and must be passed. In that manner, S. 3376 could avoid having to be debated and would be enacted if it were to go through with another bill (and the House could reconcile the Senate action).
At this time, the Poker Players Alliance is closely monitoring the situation and, if the bill is what many in the community believe it will be, are ready to mount opposition to its passage. Until the actual text is known, however, S. 3376 is just a sentence in the files of the Senate Judiciary Committee that bears watching.