Sheldon Adelson Is Behind a Congressional Plot to Kill Online Gambling

A bill expected to hit the floor next week has the billionaire’s influence written all over it.

Sheldon Adelson single-handedly helped Newt Gingrich stay alive in the 2012 Republican presidential primaries.
National Journal
Dustin Volz
March 20, 2014, 1 a.m.

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.

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