Las Vegas billionaire Sheldon Adelson’s efforts to ban legal and regulated online gaming is a legislative Dracula that seemingly refuses to die.
After spending millions on lobbyists, coalitions and lawyers, the casino mogul is back on Capitol Hill seeking to enact his personal obsession – a federal ban on states legalizing online gaming and the online sales of lottery tickets. Sources suggest an amendment pushed by Adelson will be offered in the Appropriations Committee as early as next week.
Adelson’s effort to override state law is a textbook example of crony capitalism and political corruption all wrapped up in one. When New Jersey, Delaware and Nevada legalized online gaming, Adelson did what any well-connected billionaire seeking to protect his corporate interests from competition would do – he turned to his friends in Washington. His lobbyist drafted legislation essentially reversing the decision of the states and went to one of the benefactors of his political largess – Sen. Lindsey Graham, and then Sen. Tom Cotton – to introduce the bill, often called RAWA (“Restore America’s Wire Act”).
Graham and Cotton cite humanitarian reasons for introducing the bill, but it’s hard to believe that he did it for any other reason than as political payback. After all, Adelson and his family, along with their Las Vegas Sand’s PAC, gave more than $20,000 in campaign contributions to Graham’s 2014 Senate campaign. Then, when the bill failed to pass, Adelson donated a whopping $20 million to the Senate Leadership Fund, which invested a large chunk of it in the campaign of Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AK). Cotton then re-introduced his bill just days later.
Coincidence? I think not.
In particular, Graham has made outrageous claims, including that state-regulated internet gaming promoted terrorism and pressed newly-minted Attorney General Jeff Sessions to overturn state laws. In the House, Adelson allies, including former House member Rep. Jason Chaffetz, introduced the bill and even held hearings on the measure in his own committee.
Liberty-minded groups, however, built a stonewall of opposition to the measure noting it is a clear violation of the Tenth Amendment and the concept of federalism, an example of cronyism and a threat to the future of the Internet freedom.
Despite the opposition, Adelson, like a gambler who has run into a long losing streak, continues to press on hoping his luck will change. Next week in the House, it could.
Sources on Capitol Hill suggest that an amendment, mostly probably be offered by Rep. Charlie Dent (R-PA), will be offered on the Floor during consideration of the State, Justice, Commerce appropriations bill. In addition to being poor policy, the amendment would short-circuit regular order, stripping House Judiciary Committee and Tenth Amendment champion Rep. Robert Goodlatte of jurisdiction on the measure.
The Committee should prevent Adelson from buying another effort to override state law. Members of the New Jersey delegation and other states should be aggressively protecting their state’s interests by objecting to this unconstitutional power play.
RAWA is a bill whose foundation was created on sand -- coincidentally, by the leader of the Sands Casino Empire. There is no pressing need for the federal government to prohibit states from selling lottery tickets online or legalizing online gambling. The only reason the bill remains alive today is because its promoter is the largest political contributor to the GOP and he wants to protect his brick and mortar casino empire from competition.
That is not reason enough to tear up the Constitution. RAWA has already failed time and time again in Congress. Next week, the Republican-controlled Congress should not give Adelson a crony, unconstitutional gift by sneaking the legislation through the appropriations process.