Rep. Chaffetz reintroduced federal online gambling ban, RAWA

To the surprise of no one, US Representative Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) reintroduced a bill scripted last year to put an end to any legal form of online gambling across the United States. The new version, introduced February 4, 2015, is near identical to last year’s edition, including the title, “The Restoration of America’s Wire Act” (or RAWA for short).

Rep Chaffetz reintroduced Restoration of America's Wire Act RAWAAs the name implies, the measure would reinstate the original interpretation of the Wire Act of 1961 by amending various sections to specifically include (and prohibit) online gambling. Whereas the original text of the Wire Act (18 U.S. Code § 1084) referenced only “bets or wagers on any sporting event or contest”, Chaffetz wishes the new text to simply read “any bet or wager”.

In 2006, when the UIGEA was authored, the Wire Act was a prominent point of reference in declaring online gambling to be illegal in the US. However, the Department of Justice clarified the definition of the Wire Act in 2011 to encompass sports betting, but not other forms of gambling like casino games and poker. Thus states were afforded the right to permit or criminalize online casino/poker games at their discretion.

Nevada, Delaware and New Jersey all launched iGaming markets in 2013, with Nevada electing to authorize and regulate online poker only, and the other two launching full scale online casino and poker markets. Should RAWA gain more traction this year and make it into the US law books, all three states would have their current legal operations shut down.

One difference in this year’s edition of RAWA that varies from 2014 is its backers. The new online gambling ban has been introduced by both Rep. Chaffetz and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii). It’s worth noting that both Utah and Hawaii are found on a very short list of US states that do not permit any form of gambling whatsoever; not even the sale of state-issued lottery tickets.

Rep. Chaffetz, who was recently elected Chairman of the Government Oversight and Reform Committee, says RAWA is an imperative piece of legislation that must be passed, and the sooner the better. “In yet another example of executive branch overreach, the DOJ crossed the line by making what amounts to a massive policy change without debate or input from the people or their representatives,” explained the Congressman in a press release yesterday. “We must restore the original interpretation of the Wire Act. If there is justification and support for a change, the Constitution designates Congress as the body to debate that change and set that policy.”

Of interesting note, last year, RAWA was introduced on dual platforms, by Chaffetz to the House, and by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) in the Senate. It’s a near certainty that Sen. Graham will also reintroduce RAWA, especially since it was revealed last week that Graham is exploring a 2016 Presidential candidacy. If there’s one thing every wanna-be US President needs, it’s campaign donations, and for any politician willing to lobby for a blanket ban of online gaming, there’s only one pocket book he needs look towards – billionaire Sheldon Adelson.

The CEO of Las Vegas Sands Corp, Adelson threw countless dollars at his crusade to ban online gambling in the US last year. In fact, Sen. Graham didn’t join the anti-iGaming ranks until 2013; the same year Adelson and his wife stopped contributing $15,600 to his campaign. Those contributions were restored when the South Carolina Senator began pushing for RAWA. Surely the casino magnate, who has vowed to spend “whatever it takes” to get online gambling outlawed, would delight in backing the Presidential campaign of one of his strongest like-minded politicians.

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