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Gaming Guru

Steve Tetreault

Lawmakers wrestle with proposed ban on legal Internet gambling

26 March 2015

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Lawmakers on Wednesday wrestled with a bill that seeks to ban legalized gambling on the Internet and roll it back in the few states — including Nevada — where it has been approved in some form.

A hearing before the House Judiciary crime subcommittee broke little new ground as a panel of expert witnesses reviewed arguments in favor of restricting online gaming, and arguments in favor of allowing it in states that might want it and believe it can be regulated effectively.

But it was the first step in the new Congress for the legislation that would reverse a 2011 legal opinion from the Department of Justice that said the Interstate Wire Act of 1961, which covers the transmission of wagers, applies only to sports betting and not poker or casino-style games.

As a textbook issue, Internet gambling provokes debate on federal versus state powers and the effectiveness of technologies employed to keep the games fair and limited to adults.

As a political and economic matter, the issue pits casino companies and lottery providers who want to develop new revenue streams online against figures — including a major one in billionaire Sheldon Adelson — who believe there is harm to society for people to cast Internet wagers, be it at a virtual poker table, an online slot machine or by clicking to buy a lottery ticket.

With the hearing completed, the next step is a Judiciary Committee session where the bill will be opened for amendment and votes. After failing to pass the bill during a post-election session, proponents of the online restrictions have picked up where they left off in the fall.

Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., declined to talk with reporters about the bill. Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, the sponsor of the Restoration of America’s Wire Act bill, said he expected the legislation to advance, but couldn’t say when.

“We’re doing the hearing for a reason,” he said.

In talking with reporters, Chaffetz also rejected the criticism that the legislation carries water for Adelson, the chairman and chief executive of the Sands Corp, a major Republican contributor who has financed major lobbying to halt online gaming and roll it back. New Jersey and Delaware have legalized casino gaming online while Nevada has approved poker-only.

At the hearing, lawmakers wrestled with legal ramifications of the bill.