Jason Chaffetz RAWA hearing

Utah Representative Jason Chaffetz, a RAWA Congressional sponsor and finger-wagger to the stars, left the hearing whenever he wasn’t actually asking a question or involved in its response. (Image: politico.com)

The Congressional hearing for the Restoration of America’s Wire Act (RAWA) was finally unleashed on Capitol Hill yesterday, chaired by Representative Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), who introduced the bill early this year.

The hearing had been largely criticized in the run-up, because the witnesses due to testify were by and large against online gambling and pro-RAWA, and there were no surprises in that arena once invited speakers had their say.

From the moment that Louie Gohmert, chairman of the House Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security, and Investigations, kicked things off by grappling with the states’ rights question, it looked like the issue was headed for a fairly one-sided discussion.

“We must explore ways to protect the rights of states to prevent unwanted Internet gambling from creeping across their borders,” he reasoned. “Updating the Wire Act can be a tool to protect states’ rights to prohibit gambling activity.”

Enthused by this exciting new interpretation of federalism, Chaffetz took that ball and ran with it. “I believe [RAWA] is a state’s rights bill, and I believe it’s the rights of states like Utah and Hawaii, where we have no gaming, to protect ourselves from something that we would not like to see within our borders,” he declared.

This, before a single testimony had been heard.

Rhyming Rhetoric

The first witness was John Kindt, a professor at the University of Illinois Law School, who wasted no time in condemning online gambling as the “crack cocaine of gambling.”

Kindt is fond of the it’s-true-because-it-rhymes brand of rhetoric, a passion he shares with Sheldon Adelson: “Click your phone, lose your home” he quipped. “Click your mouse, lose your house,” he added, just in case you didn’t get the brilliant poetry with the first example.

In fact, Adelson likes exactly the same sorts of phrases, which he himself coined. Not that he’s behind all this, of course.

Kindt is also fond of quoting from outdated studies, such as the one commissioned by Congress in 1999, the days of dial-up Internet, which concluded that “Internet gaming is impossible to regulate” and therefore should be prohibited at all costs.

“Dangerous Precedent”

Next up was Andrew Moylan, executive director and senior fellow at R Street Institute, a conservative-libertarian think tank. Moylan was a late addition to the list of witnesses, a concession, perhaps, to criticism of the largely partisan panel.

However, he confusingly stated that he was not particularly knowledgeable about or interested in gambling. Instead, he was here to “articulate a conception of limited government and federalism as it relates to gambling legislation.”

Moylan noted that RAWA and its blanket ban on online gambling was at odds with the principles of federalism and also the “more narrowly targeted language of the original Wire Act and UIGEA.” Both the Wire Act and UIGEA, he said, were enacted to help states in their own law enforcement pursuits.

He also said that RAWA “potentially establishes a dangerous precedent by suggesting that the mere use of a communication platform like the internet subjects all users and all activity to the reach of the federal government, no matter its location or its nature.”

Les Says More

Les Bernal RAWA hearing

Les Bernal, shown here during a 60 Minutes interview with his ubiquitously shocked expression, had nothing good to say about online gambling, or gambling period. (Image: 60 Minutes/ncpolicywatch.com)

Les Bernal, national director of the Stop Predatory Gambling Foundation, was up next to state his moral objection to all forms of gambling. It’s Bernal’s opinion that states are forcing online gambling on a reluctant and terrified populace.

“States, in partnership with commercial gambling operators, are forcing these gambling games onto the public. If not the federal government, who will step in to protect the rights of individuals, your constituents, against these practices by an active, predatory state?”

A Minute’s Silence

Michael K. Fagan, adjunct professor of law at Washington University School of Law, managed to unplug his TV microphone as he was asked to move it closer towards him, which meant that the first half his speech was conducted in complete silence, as far as the Internet stream viewers were concerned.

While we’re no experts on lip-reading, we’re fairly sure we could make out the words “terrorism,” “money,” and “launderers” repeated several times over. The theme of the second, more audible half of the speech suggested that this had been the case and we resisted the urge to turn the volume back down.

Finally, Parry Aftab, executive director of cyber safety advice group WiredSafety, appeared to be the only witness who had taken the time to talk to operators and regulators in the states that had actually legalized online gaming.

Voice of Reason

“I agree there are lots of problems,” Aftab said. “There are terrorists who are using online gambling and there’s money laundering going on, and there’s malicious code, but that is not happening in New Jersey, Delaware or Nevada. It is happening currently with many of the offshore gambling sites that are not covered by our laws.”

Parry Aftab Wired Safety RAWA

One of the few RAWA hearing attendees to speak unequivocally in support of regulated and legal online gambling, Parry Aftab of WiredSafety made her case eloquently nonetheless. (Image: Mel Evans/AP)

She proceeded to talk about the success of the technical safeguards the states had employed, from age verification procedures to geolocation technology, audit trails, and cooperation with the IRS. Several committee members in the video feed shot behind her were visibly sneering.

Reading this, you might think that America’s fledgling online gambling industry is doomed, but that’s far from the case. RAWA remains an unpopular piece of legislation overall in Congress, and the fact that it’s gotten so far despite this reality is likely testament to Adelson’s billions.

But, as Chaffetz said, when he apparently thought the microphone was off and was debating the length of the recess with fellow committee members: “This is Congress, so anything bad can happen.”

Stand forewarned.