Senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Marco Rubio (R-FL), who are also both declared candidates for president in 2016, are sponsoring legislation in the U.S. Senate that will federally ban internet-based gambling, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported today.
The bill, called the Restoration of America's Wire Act (RAWA), would prohibit most forms of online gambling, including those that have been allowed under state law. The two senators reintroduced the bill, long supported by Las Vegas casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, to the Senate earlier this week, National Journal reported.
Opponents of RAWA say it is an improper application of federal authority over an area of public policy that should be decided at the state level. Critics also say the bill would open the door to further federal regulation of the internet in the future.
Republican donor Sheldon Adelson, who has donated or helped raise funds in the past for both Graham and Rubio, strongly supports the bill and says society should be protected against online gambling. Critics of Adelson claim he wants online gambling shut down because he views it as competition for his brick-and-mortar casinos.
"The legislation from Graham, who is running for president, would carry out the goals of Sheldon Adelson, the billionaire casino owner who has put big money behind a campaign against online gambling. Adelson, chairman of the Las Vegas Sands Corp., has argued that making wagers over the Internet is corrosive to society and bad business for the casino industry," the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported.
Writing for FreedomWorks, Julie Borowski criticized Adelson, pointing out his support for RAWA and his statement that internet gambling is "a threat to society – a toxin which all good people ought resist." Borowski wrote that Adelson's comment "seems like an odd statement to make for someone who owns... a casino company." Adelson is the chairman and chief executive of the Las Vegas Sands casino. Borowski further wrote that the real story of Adelson's support for RAWA is because "he doesn't want to compete with new forms of gambling (online). So, he's running to Washington to get a little help from his corrupt politician friends... In return, he'll give them some $$$."
The bill is supported by the Coalition to Stop Internet Gambling, funded by Adelson, whose spokesman, John Ashbrook, has said, "Predatory online gambling is ruining lives all across the country and this bill will help us stop it."
Adelson donated $93 million to candidates in the 2012 elections, including $30 million to a super-PAC that supported Mitt Romney in the general election and $15 million to a super-PAC that supported Newt Gingrich in the GOP primaries, the Hill reported.
Sen. Graham is supporting RAWA, and as the Washington Post reports, hopes his long-shot candidacy for the presidency will get financial backing from Adelson, who in turn wants RAWA enacted to ban most forms of internet gambling. Politico reported that Adelson and his wife, Miriam, wrote checks totaling $15,600 to Lindsey Graham.
Sen. Rubio, a leading candidate for president who has also signed on as a sponsor of RAWA, appears to be the preferred presidential candidate of Adelson, who has called the Florida Senator "the future of the Republican Party." Rubio, who has been dubbed the winner of the "Adelson primary," has been praised by Adelson his strong defense views, support of Israel, and the appeal of his Cuban heritage. Rubio has also met and dined with Adelson recently at a steakhouse in Washington D.C.
"It is unfortunate that Sen. Graham and Sen. Rubio and several colleagues have chosen to carry Adelson's water in the U.S. Senate," said Kristen Hawn, a spokeswoman for the Coalition for Consumer and Online Protection, which the Review-Journal characterized as "a pro-Web gaming group funded by MGM Resorts International and Caesars Entertainment Corp."
Many conservatives are against RAWA, including Grover Norquist, head of Americans for Tax Reform, who Time magazine reported as arguing, "You don't want the federal government coming in and evening things up: 'Oh, it's not fair if Delaware has gaming and Pennsylvania doesn't... Let them decide. It's not your job. You don't live there. And if it's a dumb idea, then after a while Delaware will be 'Hey that's a dumb idea' and change the law."
Last year, a coalition of groups signed on to a letter drafted by the Taxpayer Protection Alliance, which urged Congress to not enact RAWA.
That letter, in part, stated, "In total, H.R. 4301 is an inappropriate and unnecessary use of federal powers that infringes on the rights of individuals and states. We applaud you for standing against this government overreach and preserving the principles of federalism and free-market competition that underscore American democracy."
The letter against RAWA was signed by several conservative and liberty-oriented groups, including Alliance for Freedom, Competitive Enterprise Institute, FreedomWorks, Institute for Liberty, and the Taxpayer Protection Alliance.
The American Conservative Union also opposes RAWA.
It's executive director, Dan Schneider, wrote in a statement, "Conservatives don't have to agree on the value of gambling, but we should agree that it is unwise to use the brute force of the federal government to try to stop states from making their own decisions on this activity, especially if the reason for this action is to support gambling entrepreneurs in Las Vegas."
The RAWA bill would restore the interpretation of the Wire Act, enacted in 1961, which contained a ban on placing bets on sporting events, that had been held as banning gambling sites on the internet. In 2011, the Justice Department interpreted the Wire Act as banning sports betting but not internet-based gambling, the Hill reported.
Forbes reports that Adelson is "winning his war against online gambling," and that after the Las Vegas casino magnate had vowed he was "willing to spend whatever it takes" in his effort to ban internet gambling, the American Gaming Association has dropped its previous support for online gambling.
The issue will be debated in Congress when they take up consideration of RAWA. If that is passed by both houses of Congress and signed by the president, it would effectively ban most forms of internet gambling. If it is defeated, that would send the issue squarely back to where opponents of RAWA want it to be debated and decided, in the states. They point out that the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution delegates authority to regulate matters as internet-based gambling to the states.
[Photo of Las Vegas casino magnate Sheldon Adelson by Phillippe Lopez for Getty Images]