RAWA: One Casino Billionaire’s Quest to Kill Internet Gambling
Enter the world of Sheldon Adelson, a billionaire casino mogul and Republican donor with a net worth of $34.8 billion. From the Las Vegas Sands of Nevada, to the Venetian Macao of Macua, Adelson’s casinos are renowned the world over. However, innovation in the form of online gambling represents a clear and existential threat to this gaming empire.
Will congressional Republicans stoop to blatant cronyism to preserve it?
Restoration of America’s Wire Act (RAWA) is a piece of legislation that would extend the Federal Wire Act of 1961 to impose a federal ban on online gambling. Simultaneously, the bill would grant online activities like fantasy sports an exemption. Darryl Nirenberg, the author of RAWA, is a registered lobbyist for Adelson’s company.
In the years since its inception, RAWA has never advanced any further than receiving a few hearings. Currently, RAWA is stopped in Congress, but some fear that an amendment will be offered to the State Justice Commerce Appropriations bill in committee as soon as next week.
In any case, usage of the term “restoration” in the legislation’s title is a misnomer, considering the Federal Wire Act of 1961 did not apply to the use of the Internet as a wagering medium. Michelle Minton, a fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, wrote a paper in 2014, detailing the original intent of the act, which was to combat the source of organized crime’s revenue—namely bookkeeping on horseracing and sports gambling, utilizing the telephone and telegraph systems.
This legislation represents a naked attempt to shield Sheldon Adelson’s gambling industry from free market competition, wielding his considerable influence on Congress. In 2016, Adelson gave $5 million to support Donald Trump, and $40 million to Republican congressional candidates.
Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Congressman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) introduced the first version of RAWA in June of 2015. Senator Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) quickly followed suit that very next year, only one day after revelations came to light that Adelson gave $20 million to the Senate Leadership Fund, a super PAC with ties to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).
The Coalition to Stop Internet Gambling, an organization backed by Sheldon Adelson himself, has attempted to portray online gambling as negative and addictive, predictably offering RAWA as a solution to this non-existent problem. If RAWA was intended to cut down on addictive habits, it would not grant exemptions to fantasy sports, which incidentally have no impact on the market share of Adelson’s casinos.
Additionally, the coalition’s website states, “Internet gambling will reduce traffic at land-based casinos,” which correctly, albeit unintentionally, discerns primarily why Adelson opposes online gambling in the first place.
Passing RAWA would have a violent and immediate impact on the regulated gambling industry in the United States, as the bill’s text does not include exemptions for existing, state-regulated online gambling in New Jersey, Delaware, and Nevada, and online lottery tickets in states like Georgia and Illinois. Significantly impacting local economies, RAWA’s passage would instantly render legal, productive industries illegal overnight.
Support for RAWA is not a conservative position—over 90 percent of CPAC participants opposed the bill. The legislation is written by lobbyists, for crony capitalists, and against the interests of the people of the United States. Unfortunately, even some traditional conservatives are coming out in support of RAWA.
During his confirmation hearing, Attorney General Jeff Sessions expressed that he would seek to overturn the 2011 decision that gave the power to regulate online gambling to the states. Sessions reportedly stated he was “shocked” that the Obama administration allowed Internet gaming. While Sessions frequently displays conservative principles, this position runs counter to advancing personal liberty, and represents a moralistic “prohibition” on an innovative, growing industry.
However, Sessions was ultimately forced to recuse himself from the case, considering the attorney he hired for the “Russia investigation,” Charles Cooper, is a former lobbyist for the Coalition to Stop Internet Gambling.
Congress has a duty to the American people to safeguard their interests, which certainly don’t include a ban on online gambling. Fundamentally, RAWA represents political suicide, but will congressional Republicans swallow the pill?