As the latest battle for online poker heats up on Capitol Hill and in the change purse of Sheldon Adelson, the pro-online poker side has earned more supporters. Recently, both the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) and the North American Association of State and Provincial Lotteries (NASPL) penned letters to federal lawmakers expressing their opposition to the Restoration of America’s Wire Act bill.
To review, the bill was introduced in late March by Senator Lindsey Graham (R – SC) and Congressman Jason Chaffetz (R – Utah) with the goal of reversing the Department of Justice’s December 2011 clarification of the Interstate Wire Act of 1961. The Wire Act, as it’s called, made it illegal to use wire communications for sports betting. As online gambling gained popularity in the past decade, though, the DoJ interpreted the ban on sports betting to include all gambling over various forms of wire communications. Just before Christmas 2011, though, the DoJ revisted its opinion, declaring that the Wire Act applied only to sports betting, not other gambling like poker. This clarification opened the door for states to legalize and regulate internet gambling and in the years since, Nevada, Delaware, and New Jersey have all done so.
This has upset opponents of internet gambling, so now, led by Las Vegas Sands CEO and Republican mega-donor Sheldon Adelson, the Restoration of America’s Wire Act has been introduced with the express goal of setting the DoJ’s Wire Act interpretation back to its pre-2011 status.
This move, in turn, has angered supporters not just of online poker, but of states’ rights, as the bill would expressly snatch online gaming decisions from the hands of the states. The NCSL, an organization that champions the rights of state legislatures, providing them “a strong, cohesive voice in the federal system,” wrote its letter on April 3rd to the leaders of both the Senate and the House of Representatives, urging them to oppose the Restoration of America’s Wire Act. The letter reads, in part, “States have proven that they are effective regulators of the gambling industry and the proponents of this legislation fail to make a case that we have been negligent in our responsibilities to the industry and consumers. This attempt to enact a wholesale prohibition of online gambling with the Restoration of America’s Wire Act is merely a solution seeking a problem.”
A few days earlier, the NASPL sent its letter directly to Senator Graham, saying:
Our Association believes, and is on record, that all gaming should be left up to the individual states to
determine the games that are offered, as well as the manner in which they are being delivered to their
customers. This is, and has always been, a state’s right to make these decisions as they relate to gaming
within its respective boarders. Since lottery products are sold in a competing market, it is important that
we continue to design and offer secure games that people want to play so that lottery states can continue
to fund the much-needed programs and/or services for which lottery revenues are earmarked.
It will be interesting to see how many more state organizations come out against the Graham/Chaffetz bill, as this current battle appears to be shaping up to be, at least in part, a fight over states’ rights.