The postponed RAWA hearing was finally heard in the House of Representatives by a Judiciary subcommittee on Wednesday, but the majority of the witnesses invited to testify seemed to be biased in their statements.
Introduced by Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), the Restoration of America’s Wire Act is a bill that would restore the law to prohibit all forms of Internet wagering and poker.
On the Friday before Christmas in 2011, the Department of Justice concluded that the Wire Act is only limited to sports betting, giving states the right to legalize iGaming.
Although RAWA has bipartisan support to a certain extent, the Republican Party has led its sponsorship in both the House and Senate, primarily due to GOP financier Sheldon Adelson, a Las Vegas billionaire and casino industry leader who wants online gambling banned.
Poker Players’ Pre-Rebuttal
The subcommittee originally invited a total of four witnesses, but following a snowstorm in early March and subsequent postponement until this week, a fifth, and thought to be more anti-RAWA witness, was added. The makeup of the panel was predicted to be three yeas and two nays, and that’s exactly what we got.
Before the hearing was even underway, the poker community began its defense with two presentations in Washington, DC, that demonstrated how Internet gaming providers protect users and block minors. Congressional staffers attended the seminars, but all 14 subcommittee members opted to skip the event.
Fact or Fiction?
It was the pro crowd who seemed to spit out decades-old facts and borderline mistruths in evaluating the worthiness of RAWA.
Mr. John Warren Kindt, professor emeritus at the University of Illinois School of Law, was the hearing’s most blunt critic of Internet poker. Kindt argued that online gambling and poker is the “crack cocaine” of gambling, citing the 1999 US National Gambling Impact Study Commission that said an online casino network would create a new pool of addicted gamblers.
Mr. Les Bernal, the second witness to testify and also vehemently opposed to Internet gaming, is the National Director of the Stop Predatory Gambling Foundation. Bernal stressed the necessity of the federal government to protect Americans from their own vices, taking the rather long leap of linking anyone who gambles as being one that’s also addicted.
“No strong nation has ever built prosperity on the foundations of personal debt, addiction, and the steady expansion of ‘businesses’ that produce no new wealth,” Bernal said. “No citizen of America should be rendered a ‘loser’ by his or her own government.”
Mr. Michael K. Fagan, another law professor, theorized no enforcement agency could possibly monitor online gambling, and expanded on Bernal’s opinion that Americans need to be babysat. “Advocacy groups who seek legalization of online wagering merely use poker as a facade: their real interest is not in playing poker but in promoting the corporate profits to be made by wagering, yet these gambling industry profits will only serve to further divide the haves from the have-nots in our society.”
Opponents Say Fiction
The hearing wasn’t completely one-sided as Ms. Parry Aftab, executive director for Wired Safety, countered several of the points made by Kindt, Bernal, and Fagan, primarily the ability of jurisdictions to patrol the industry.
“Nevada, Delaware and New Jersey each mandate a series of rigorous player identification processes prior to establishing a new account to play, and verifying identity at time of play. These regulatory requirements and processes do, in fact, offer better safeguards against underage gambling than exist in the brick and mortar industry…”
She concluded her testimony by saying, “After more than two decades analyzing the risks posed… Laws attempting to prohibit Internet gambling haven’t worked, will not work, and cannot work in today’s digital commerce.”
Mr. Andrew Moylan, the fifth witness added, also spoke against RAWA, albeit to a lesser degree than Aftab. The R Street fellow highlighted the need for smaller government, not a bigger one that creates a nanny state for adults who wish to gamble as a form of entertainment from the comfort of their own homes.
“The 1961 Wire Act was established to help states in their ongoing efforts to combat organized crime and their interstate betting rackets… RAWA’s potential overreach in failing to exempt intrastate activity is unwise from the perspective of federalism, but it could also prove largely unnecessary. If a state wishes to prohibit gambling within its borders, it has sufficient power to do so and sufficient legal remedies at its disposal.
You Can’t Handle the Truth!
Following the hours of testimony and questioning, many left the room wondering what was true and what was not. The PPA said it was nothing more than “an exercise in fear mongering.”
“Today’s hearing was about one thing, checking the box to advance Mr. Adelson’s bill,” John Pappas, PPA executive director wrote in his response. “Never in the history of US Internet gaming legislation has Congress ever considered overriding states’ rights to regulate online gambling within their own borders and yet Mr. Adelson’s bill would do just that.”
Poker legend Daniel Negreanu didn’t feel many facts were presented at the hearing, tweeting, “Being well spoken or having an understanding of the topic you are debating is not required to be a politician. #ThingsIveLearned2day #RAWA”
“If an unelected billionaire is granted the power to rewrite history by imposing a federal prohibition, the future is bleak for every American who values their Internet freedom, Pappas concluded.