RAWA in 2015: The Long and Winding Road That Led to Confusion and Contention

Posted on: December 30, 2015, 09:00h. 

Last updated on: December 16, 2015, 02:31h.

Sheldon Adelson RAWA 2015
Billionaire Sheldon Adelson is funding the RAWA journey, and though the legislation idled in 2015, the excursion will continue after the New Year. (Image: politico.com)

RAWA endured a lengthy 2015 campaign in which the legislation that aims to block all forms of online gambling failed to gain much momentum in Congress, despite several lawmakers advocating on its behalf.

Formally known as the Restoration of America’s Wire Act, RAWA was first introduced in the Senate and House of Representatives in March of 2014 by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) and Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah).

The bill was largely overshadowed in Washington, DC, during its initial introduction as elected leaders inside the Beltway were focused on the so-called “cromnibus,” a head-scratching emergency bill that ultimately funded the American government in 2015.

Graham and Chaffetz reportedly attempted to slide RAWA into the cromnibus package, but the bill ultimately passed free of any gambling legislation.

RAWA’s defeat in 2014 didn’t hamper its proponents’ motivation for this year’s legislative calendar. Backed by billionaire Sheldon Adelson, the $30 billion Las Vegas Sands owner who desperately wants online casinos outlawed, Graham and Chaffetz once again introduced the proposal to their chambers.

Chaffetz’s Hearing Aid

Following a February presentation of RAWA, Chaffetz used his standing on the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security, and Investigations to hold a formal hearing on the pros and cons of sending Internet betting into prohibition.

The committee invited five witnesses to testify, but it was evident from the start the majority was in favor of RAWA. University of Illinois Law Professor John Kindt even stole a line directly from Adelson when he said, “Click your phone, lose your home … click your mouse, lose your house.”

What little coverage the RAWA hearing received was rather negative, media pundits identifying the bias among the invitees. That led to Chaffetz ultimately failing to gain much support from his House colleagues, RAWA basically being shelved in the aftermath.

Graham’s Bad Timing

Timing is everything, and Graham’s decision to re-enter RAWA into the Senate came at what was perhaps the most ill-advised time the South Carolina politician could have chosen.

On the day before nine victims of the Charleston, South Carolina, shooting were laid to rest, Graham quietly reintroduced RAWA.

Poker Players Alliance Executive Director John Pappas condemned the action saying, “I think I speak for most Americans when I express profound disappointment in Senator Graham for choosing this time to advance a bill for the sole benefit of a billionaire political donor.”

Graham’s bill has sat quietly ever since, attracting more dust in the halls of the US Capitol than White House fourth-tier china.

The DFS Factor

RAWA is thought to have predominantly struggled in 2014 and much of the past 12 months because the subject of online gambling simply wasn’t relevant enough for middle-of-the-road politicians to tackle. But that might have changed now, thanks to daily fantasy sports (DFS).

DFS has already been outlawed by Nevada and New York, and multiple other states are currently pondering the legality of the contests. Should Congress intervene, that could theoretically open the floodgates for additional anti-online gaming regulations.

In Memorium, Almost

Finally, both a House Oversight and Government Reform (OGR) meeting on Dec. 9th and a failure (once again) to include RAWA in an end-of-year spending bill means that RAWA may live to see another day in 2016, but probably it will be gasping for breath and on an Adelson-funded heart-lung machine.

Happy New Year.