GOP Presidential Hopefuls Introduce Sheldon Adelson-Backed Bill to Ban Online Gambling

Sens. Lindsey Graham and Marco Rubio are among a cohort of senators that revived legislation heavily favored by the billionaire GOP donor.

Sheldon Adelson single-handedly helped Newt Gingrich stay alive in the 2012 Republican presidential primaries.
National Journal
June 24, 2015, 4:01 p.m.

Two Re­pub­lic­an sen­at­ors run­ning for pres­id­ent re­in­tro­duced a bill Wed­nes­day that would ef­fect­ively ban In­ter­net poker and oth­er forms of on­line gambling—le­gis­la­tion that has long been cham­pioned by casino mag­nate and GOP mega-donor Shel­don Ad­el­son.

Both Lind­sey Gra­ham and Marco Ru­bio joined a hand­ful of Re­pub­lic­ans and one Demo­crat in re­viv­ing the Res­tor­a­tion of Amer­ica’s Wire Act, a meas­ure that pro­ponents say would “re­store” the prop­er in­ter­pret­a­tion of a dec­ades-old fed­er­al ban on some gambling op­er­a­tions by ex­pand­ing it to in­clude In­ter­net gambling.

The four-page bill is nearly the same as a meas­ure in­tro­duced last year and closely mir­rors a bill offered by House Over­sight Chair­man Jason Chaf­fetz this year. The on­line ban has failed to gain trac­tion in either cham­ber of Con­gress, but Ad­el­son—whose net worth tal­lies in the bil­lions and who has made a name of him­self as one of the biggest fun­ders of Re­pub­lic­an pres­id­en­tial cam­paigns—re­mains an in­flu­en­tial and ar­dent sup­port­er.

(RE­LATED: An Ad­el­son Backs Lind­sey Gra­ham for Pres­id­ent

Back­ers of the bill, in­clud­ing Gra­ham and Ru­bio, say that Ad­el­son’s in­flu­ence has noth­ing to do with their sup­port. They ar­gue that the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion ac­ted bey­ond its bounds in 2011 when it is­sued a Justice De­part­ment memo cla­ri­fy­ing its read­ing of the 1961 Wire Act, which his­tor­ic­ally has been used to po­lice all forms of gambling. That memo said that in­ter­state gambling across “wire com­mu­nic­a­tions” that do not re­late to sports bet­ting do not fall with­in the scope of the act.

“Now, be­cause of this de­cision by the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion, vir­tu­ally any cell phone or com­puter in South Car­o­lina could be­come a video poker ma­chine,” Gra­ham said in a state­ment. “A ma­jor re­write of a long-stand­ing fed­er­al law like this should be made by the people’s elec­ted rep­res­ent­at­ives in Con­gress and signed in­to law by the pres­id­ent, not done ad­min­is­trat­ively.”

But the le­gis­la­tion’s crit­ics, in­clud­ing poker groups and former Rep. Ron Paul, have ac­cused its spon­sors of suc­cumb­ing to blatant cronyism to ap­pease Ad­el­son’s deep pock­ets. As chief ex­ec­ut­ive of Las Ve­gas Sands Cor­por­a­tion, Ad­el­son presides over a brick-and-mor­tar casino em­pire and has vowed to spend un­lim­ited amounts of money to end U.S. gam­ing sites. Though his de­tract­ors see the lob­by­ing as self-serving, Ad­el­son has ar­gued those sites—which ex­ploded in pop­ular­ity over the past 15 years—amount to a “so­ci­et­al train wreck wait­ing to hap­pen” be­cause they un­der­mine fam­ily val­ues.

(RE­LATED: Sev­en Free-Agent Re­pub­lic­an Mega-Donors to Watch)

John Pap­pas, the ex­ec­ut­ive dir­ect­or of the Poker Play­ers Al­li­ance, sug­ges­ted in a state­ment that Gra­ham’s in­tro­duc­tion of the bill wasn’t be­ing re­spect­ful of the re­cent mass shoot­ing at Emanuel AME Church in Char­le­ston, South Car­o­lina.

“As the eyes of the na­tion are fo­cused on South Car­o­lina fol­low­ing the re­cent tra­gic event, I think I speak for most Amer­ic­ans when I ex­press pro­found dis­ap­point­ment in Sen­at­or Gra­ham for choos­ing this time to ad­vance a bill for the sole be­ne­fit of a bil­lion­aire polit­ic­al donor,” Pap­pas said. “The Con­gress made the de­cision to ad­journ early so they could at­tend ser­vices on Fri­day in Sen­at­or Gra­ham’s home state. Un­for­tu­nately, Sen­at­or Gra­ham has not re­set his pri­or­it­ies and picked a very un­for­tu­nate time to en­gage in the In­ter­net gam­ing de­bate.”

Ad­el­son so far has not pub­licly pledged fealty to any one GOP con­tender this cycle, though he did make dona­tions to Gra­ham’s Sen­ate reelec­tion cam­paign last year. That cash co­in­cided with a sud­den in­terest in on­line gambling from the sen­at­or, who had been quiet on the is­sue. Ad­el­son also co­chaired a Gra­ham fun­draiser in Feb­ru­ary of this year.

(RE­LATED: How Ted Cruz Is Mak­ing His Case to Shel­don Ad­el­son)

Ru­bio has been re­l­at­ively quiet on on­line gambling as well. But many be­lieve the Flor­ida de­fense hawk’s policy po­s­i­tions line up well with Ad­el­son’s pri­or­it­ies, par­tic­u­larly in re­gard to na­tion­al de­fense and Is­rael.

Ad­el­son launched the Co­ali­tion to Stop In­ter­net Gambling last year, amid ac­tion from sev­er­al state­houses to re­duce or re­move re­stric­tions on on­line gambling. In a state­ment, the group said there was a “tre­mend­ous amount of mo­mentum” for cur­tail­ing In­ter­net gam­ing.

“Pred­at­ory on­line gambling is ru­in­ing lives all across our coun­try and this bill will help us stop it,” John Ash­brook, a co­ali­tion spokes­man, said.

Oth­er spon­sors of the Restor­ing Amer­ica’s Wire Act in­clude Re­pub­lic­ans Kelly Ayotte, Mike Lee, Dan Coats, and Thom Tillis, in ad­di­tion to Cali­for­nia Demo­crat Di­anne Fein­stein.

This story has been up­dated.

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