Keeping the issue of online gaming and poker in the spotlight, three Senators have sent a letter to the U. S. Department of Justice and Attorney General Eric Holder looking to reinstate the previous reading of the Wire Act of 1961.
The three Senators – South Carolina’s Lindsey Graham, California’s Diane Feinstein and New Hampshire’s Kelly Ayotte – reiterate the past four years of action by the DoJ. First they note the December 2011 reversal of the DoJ’s position on the Wire Act, which stated that the law “no longer bans gambling over the internet as long as the betting is not on the outcome of a sporting event.” While they are correct on that front, the rest of their letter seems to have been written by lobbyists from Sheldon Adelson’s Coalition to Stop Internet Gambling (CSIG).
“Left on its own, the DoJ opinion could usher in the most fundamental change in gambling in our lifetimes by turning every smart phone, tablet and personal computer in our country into a casino available 24 hours a day,” the letter states. This tactic has been used by Adelson front man Andy Abboud several times in hearings and, pretty much every time it’s been presented, it has been shot down by lawmakers. “The FBI has warned it will open the door to money laundering and other criminal activity,” the letter continues, another facet that has been shot down by legal and computer experts. Finally, the trio of Senators write, “It is bound to prey on children and society’s most vulnerable,” something that, through age verification and monitoring of online activity, hasn’t occurred.
Discussing the legislation introduced by Graham in the U. S. Senate, the three are looking for the DoJ to either reinterpret the Wire Act (return it to its previous reading status as banning all online gaming and poker) or calling for the DoJ to support Graham’s bill in the Senate. “We fully expect the Senate will act on our legislation this year and it is our intent to do whatever we can to make that happen,” the letter concludes. “With your help and the backing of the DoJ, we are confident we can succeed in this effort.”
Putting aside the fact that the proposed Graham bill (and its partner in the House of Representatives introduced by Utah Representative Jason Chaffetz) has very little chance of seeing a floor vote in Congress before the end of the current term (all bills not passed this year will “die” with the seating of a new Congress in January 2015), the three senators have previously shown no interest in online gaming and poker. Unfortunately, the money being thrown about by Adelson and the CSIG seem to have twisted some arms.
Graham is probably the most likely to have signed onto something along these lines. According to a recent poll by the Charleston Post & Courier, 68% of 1000 likely voters in South Carolina were opposed to online gaming, not surprising in a state that has traditionally run more to the conservative side. Those that support online gaming barely beat out the undecided (17% and 15%, respectively) but, as with any survey, results can be skewed by the way a question is asked.
Graham, however, has been receiving a great deal of financial backing from Adelson as Graham also looks to a potential run in 2016 for President of the United States. He has received over $20,000 in campaign contributions from either Adelson, his family or the Las Vegas Sands PAC since the beginning of the year. Although he has denied it, Graham has also been prominent at several Adelson political functions.
Ayotte hasn’t previously stepped into the online gaming fray and her position against the activity is a bit surprising. Known as a Tea Party firebrand, Ayotte would rather see the government get involved with a personal decision and activity rather that regulate it or allow the states to make their own decision on the issue (a popular Tea Party refrain). Her position on the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation (which has a subcommittee on the internet) makes her a valuable ally for those in the anti-online gaming camp.
Feinstein is definitely the strangest member of the trio. California is moving forward (molasses-slow) in enacting regulations that would open up online poker for its residents. All polls in the Golden State have shown a desire by the citizenry to pass regulation and the state is known for its popular card rooms, Indian casinos and horse tracks. For Feinstein to come down against any online gaming – especially in a state where it is the logical next step to raise revenues for the state coffers – is particularly odd.
To this point, the DoJ has not responded to the letter from the Senators and it is unlikely that they will. The battle over online poker – on the federal front as well as the states – still seems to be simmering, though.