Sheldon Adelson is already wielding his super-rich influence in the 2014 elections to advance the issue he and his billion-dollar pockets care about most.
Lawmakers in both chambers of Congress are expected to drop bipartisan bills next week to "restore" a decades-old federal ban on certain kinds of betting operations and extend it to include Internet gambling—a cause the billionaire casino magnate has vocally championed.
The companion bills, championed by Rep. Jason Chaffetz and Sen. Lindsey Graham, both Republicans, would amend parts of the 1961 Wire Act to include limitations on "any transmission over the Internet carried interstate or in foreign commerce," according to a three-page draft circulating. The law had historically been used to police all forms of gambling but was largely nullified in 2011, when the Justice Department issued a formal ruling that limited its scope to only sports betting.
While Chaffetz has long expressed skepticism about online betting, Graham has historically been quiet on the issue—until now. The South Carolina Republican's sudden interest coincides with an infusion of campaign cash from Adelson, who has donated more than $15,000 to Graham's 2014 bid to earn a third Senate term. Graham is eager to bone up on his conservative credentials in a Southern state, as he is in the throes of fending off a crowded field of challengers in his state's June primary.
"There's no doubt that these bills are being pushed at the behest of Sheldon Adelson," said John Pappas, executive director of the Poker Players Alliance, which opposes most restrictions on online betting.
Adelson launched his Coalition to Stop Internet Gambling late last year, amid a growing movement in several statehouses to lower restrictions on online gambling. The octogenarian, best known for attempting to sway elections by dumping limitless money into campaigns, has vowed to "spend whatever it takes" to stop online betting, an industry he has derided as "a societal train wreck waiting to happen."
"We support and applaud all efforts to restore the long-standing interpretation that the Wire Act prohibits Internet gambling," Adelson's group said in a statement. "It's common sense that putting a virtual casino in the pocket of every American with a smartphone is bad public policy."
Of note in the draft bill is an exemption for betting on horseracing, which may be included to appease Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. Fantasy games are also carved out.
This article appears in the March 21, 2014 edition of NJ Daily.