House lawmakers Wednesday are reintroducing a bill that would effectively ban betting sites in the U.S.
The Restoration of America’s Wire Act, spearheaded by Rep. Jason Chaffetz, would “restore” a decades-old federal ban on some gambling operations by extending it to include Internet gaming. Chaffetz, a Utah Republican, is introducing the bill with six GOP cosponsors and the backing of one Democrat, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii. The three-page measure is the same as the one Chaffetz introduced last year.
An aide for Sen. Lindsey Graham confirmed that the South Carolina Republican also intends to reintroduce a version of the bill, though he said a timetable was unclear. The companion bills debuted last spring but never gained much traction.
The House reintroduction renews a long-standing fight between Internet gambling sites, brick-and-mortar casino owners, and family-values advocates.
Chaffetz told reporters Wednesday that online gambling presents a troubling family-values threat because of the ease with which players can sign up and start betting.
“Putting an app on every phone that allows people to gamble wherever they are is not a good idea,” Chaffetz said. He warned that minors can sign up and start placing bets without their parents even noticing, calling it an “important moral argument.”
Among the online ban’s most influential backers is Sheldon Adelson, a billionaire casino magnate who — via massive campaign contributions — wields considerable clout among Republicans.
Adelson has been vocally pushing the morality argument for years. In late 2013, the octogenarian began the Coalition to Stop Internet Gambling, a lobbying group that formed as a growing number of statehouses across the country were lowering restrictions on online betting.
But Adelson’s detractors argue that the wealthy political donor — whose financing kept Newt Gingrich’s 2012 presidential campaign afloat for months before Adelson threw his support behind eventual GOP nominee Mitt Romney — is singularly motivated by a desire to protect his brick-and-mortar casino empire from digital competitors. “Mr. Adelson, who is perhaps best known for using his enormous wealth to advance a pro-war foreign policy, is now using his political influence to turn his online competitors into criminals,” former Rep. Ron Paul wrote in an op-ed last November.
Pro-gambling groups have also clashed with Adelson, accusing him of single-handedly propping up an unpopular legislative campaign. Adelson has vowed to “spend whatever it takes” to stop online gambling, calling it a “societal train wreck waiting to happen.” Ads from his group have attempted to link online gambling to funding terrorism.
“Despite outrageous claims made by opponents of state-regulated Internet gaming, it has not led to the downfall of Western society,” said John Pappas, executive director of the Poker Players Alliance, in a statement Wednesday. “In fact, to date there has not been a single documented case of a minor playing on any of these state-regulated sites and no report of people wagering on a regulated website that is not authorized in their state.”
Chaffetz confirmed that he had met with Adelson when the casino magnate came to Washington last month. Several reports have indicated that Adelson met with a majority of lawmakers who sit on the House Judiciary Committee, which will have jurisdiction over Chaffetz’s bill.
“He’s an active player [in the debate], and I’m glad he’s supporting this bill,” Chaffetz said, while quickly adding that Adelson had never funded any of his campaigns. Adelson did, however, donate tens of thousands of dollars last cycle to Graham, who is publicly weighing a bid for the White House in 2016.
Chaffetz also argues that the Obama administration has acted unilaterally to allow online gambling to propagate through a 2011 Justice Department opinion clarifying the department’s interpretation of the Wire Act. That memo stated that interstate betting across “wire communications” that do not relate to sports are beyond the scope of the decades-old law.
Chaffetz contends that memo is a deliberate attempt to undermine the legislative process by the Obama administration—a charge he and many Republicans have repeatedly made on other issues ranging from immigration to health care. The four-term congressman — who took over the gavel of the House Oversight Committee last month — said the drive behind his bill is as much due to a desire to follow the proper legislative process as it is a concern about the proliferation of online gambling
“That’s not the way we change laws in this country,” Chaffetz said. “If someone thinks it should be the other way “¦ if someone thinks online gambling is good, then introduce a bill and pass it.”
Chaffetz did not specify a time line for moving his bill forward, but he said he had been given “good indications from leadership” that the measure was of interest to them.
Congress last shook up the online-gaming industry in 2006, when it passed the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act, which prohibited businesses from accepting payments from individuals if the money was knowingly being used to wager unlawful bets online. The law, signed by President Bush, hurt the growth of the then-fledgling Internet poker industry, but the reinterpretation of the Wire Act in 2011 eased those restrictions by deeming most online betting to be lawful.