Sheldon Adelson State AGs online gambling legislation

Vehement anti-online gambling proponent Sheldon Adelson is gathering state AG signatures towards Congressional action (Image: Bloomberg)

Sheldon Adelson has more than enough money to wage a one-man campaign against the spread of online gambling in the United States if he wants to. But that money also makes the Las Vegas Sands CEO a man of great influence, which means Adelson can sometimes find himself in the company of powerful friends.

Gathering John Hancocks

That seems to be the case this week, as at least 10 state attorneys general have signed onto a letter from Adelson asking members of Congress to take steps to make sure online gambling is unambiguously illegal in the United States. And that letter has now gone on to congressional leaders, as well as both the House and Senate Judiciary committees.

The letter is one of the first major salvos in Adelson’s lobbying effort, which seeks to clarify federal law to once again stop states from regulating online gambling on their own.

“Online gambling exacerbates problems associated with gambling addiction and we’re proud to be working with a number of other states to address the issue,” read Sheldon Adelson’s official letter.

The most prominent AGs on the letter include Missouri’s Chris Koster, Nebraska’s Jon Bruning and South Carolina’s Alan Wilson. The letter was first presented to the Republican Attorneys General Association last year by Las Vegas Sands Corp., though the list of AGs on the letter does include Democrats as well (such as Koster). State attorneys general are considered an important group to target when it comes to the gambling industry, as they’re the top legal authorities in each state, and would be tasked with enforcing online gambling laws.

PPA Fights Back

However, there’s plenty of lobbying being done against Adelson’s effort, too. The Poker Players Alliance (PPA) has been working to target the attorneys general of various states as well, asking their members and supporters to contact their AGs and other officials in their states in order to show support for state and federal-level online gambling. According to PPA executive director John Pappas, supporters have sent more than 9,000 letters – and nearly as many Tweets – to state officials, in an effort to combat Adelson’s voracious lobbying.

“We’re working overtime to make sure the letters don’t gain momentum among state AGs,” Pappas said. “We understand 10 have signed already, and we’re hoping we can change their minds as well.”

According to Pappas, Adelson’s ultimate goal is to get Congress to pass legislation that would strengthen the 1961 Wire Act to prohibit all online gambling. This was, in fact, the original interpretation of that statute, but a 2011 reinterpretation by the U.S. Department of Justice determined that the law only applied to sports betting, and not to casino games or poker.

Such a change could create a legal nightmare for states like Nevada, New Jersey and Delaware, each of which has already legalized, regulated  and launched online gambling, based on current law. It would also stop efforts to push online gambling in other states in their tracks. Even the presence of the letter might cause states considering online gambling to give pause – which is no doubt exactly the effect Adelson is aiming for.

Adelson’s efforts are also being opposed by Representative Joe Barton, who has introduced legislation that would regulate online poker at the federal level.

“Our office is aware of the letter, but we are still actively working on Mr. Barton’s poker bill because it is the only way to ensure that we have one uniform set of rules,” said a spokesman for Representative Barton.