op-ed

Let Free Markets And Federalism Decide Online Gaming Issue

Republicans are not happy with their national elected representatives these days. They are sick of all the broken promises and backroom deals. It’s particularly irksome to GOP voters when deals favor privileged industries and cut consumers off from the benefits that a real free market brings.

 There may be some good news on the horizon, however, and from an unlikely source. Many Republican pols have been working on behalf of Big Gambling to keep competition from America-based online competitors at bay. And they’re dropping like flies.

 Jason Chaffetz was the chairman of the powerful Committee on Oversight and Government Reform in the U.S. House of Representatives and a big booster of the Restoration of America’s Wire Act (RAWA).

 Chaffetz claimed on his website that the bill he co-sponsored concerned “restoring the long-standing interpretation of the [Federal] Wire Act.” An expansive interpretation of that legislation, enacted to fight mob influence in sports gambling in the early 1960s, “has enjoyed bipartisan support from the public, their representatives and from the attorneys general of most states.”

 This was false and Chaffetz knew it. The Wire Act was written before the advent of the Internet and Congress had several times considered and rejected applying it in a blanket way to prohibit online gaming. He wanted to pull one over on us, in other words. People pointed this out, and it splattered all over the picture he was trying to paint of himself as a principled, freedom focused politician.

 And what happened to Chaffetz? This year, he didn’t just announce that he was going to retire. He resigned early, went home to Utah, and may be a spent force politically.

 After Chaffetz quit the field, Republican Pennsylvania Rep. Charlie Dent tried to tack the bill onto a Justice Department appropriation bill. This move was opposed by, among others, the National Governors Association. The governors sent a letter to the U.S. Attorney General asking him to respect basic federalism and not impose such a thing administratively. They also opposed efforts by Congress to ram this down the throats of all 50 states for no good reason.

 And what happened to Dent? He looked at his polls and didn’t like what he saw. Dent announced that he will not stand for reelection next year for Pennsylvania’s 15th Congressional District.

 Who’s next? It almost seems like this legislation is jinxed for Republicans: Take it up and find yourself in early retirement.

 That force of example could be a very good thing. Republicans often talk a good game on the goods provided by free markets, but the kind of money from Big Gambling that can find its way into their campaign coffers is surely tempting. What’s one little compromise on gambling, which many folks find objectionable anyway?

By seeing what has happened to several of the legislation’s champions, future legislators may be more likely to respect markets and honor federalism. Still, we ought to stay on the lookout for backroom deals on online gaming from this Congress. Unfortunately, history shows us that lame ducks can still quack up some awful legislation.

James Skyles is a Chicago-based intellectual property and business law attorney.


The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.