Poker Bans

The Tortured Textualism and Faux Federalism of the Chaffetz-Graham-Adelson Online Gambling Ban


Office of Jason Chaffetz

As Scott Shackford anticipated a couple of weeks ago, Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) recently introduced a bill that would rewrite the Wire Act of 1961 to prohibit "any bet or wager" placed via the Internet. Chaffetz and Graham, who were recruited by casino magnate and GOP mega-donor Sheldon Adelson to help squash his online competitors, call the bill the Restoration of America's Wire Act. I think they (or Adelson's lobbyist, who co-wrote the bill) meant to say the Restoration of America's Wire Act Act, since the bill aims to "restore the long-standing interpretation of the Wire Act."

The problem, as the Justice Department finally recognized in December 2011, is that the interpretation Adelson and his pet legislators prefer is plainly at odds with the text of the statute, which refers to "bets or wagers on any sporting event or contest"—language that the Chaffetz-Graham-Adelson bill, H.R. 4301, would excise. Furthermore, since the Wire Act was passed decades before the Internet existed, it is rather problematic to say that Congress intended to ban online gambling. H.R. 4301 addresses that difficulty with new language referring to "any transmission over the Internet carried interstate or in foreign commerce, incidentally or otherwise." The bill does not "restore" anything; it imposes a brand new ban on Internet gambling. That includes online poker, which undeniably involves betting even if you consider it mainly a game of skill.

Graham claims admitting that the Wire Act applies only to sports betting—a conclusion endorsed by the U.S. Court of Appeals Court for the 5th Circuit back in 2002—is "yet another example of the Holder Justice Department and Obama Administration ignoring the law." If you pay close attention to a statute's actual words, according to Graham, you are ignoring the law. Being true to the law evidently requires excising the inconvenient parts.

Equally risible is Graham's claim that his legislation, which would block moves toward legalizing online gambling in states such as Nevada and New Jersey, is necessary to protect state autonomy:

In 1999, South Carolina outlawed video poker and removed over 33,000 video poker machines from within its borders. Now, because of the Obama Administration's decision, virtually any cell phone or computer can again become a video poker machine. It's simply not right.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry, quoted in the press release announcing the bill, endorses this argument: 

When gambling occurs in the virtual world, the ability of states to determine whether the activity should be available to its citizens and under what conditions—and to control the activity accordingly—is left subject to the vagaries of the technological marketplace. This seriously compromises the ability of states to control gambling within their borders.

Since Perry is known as a 10th Amendment enthusiast, his support for the  bill may carry weight among federalists. It shouldn't. Contrary to Perry's implication, H.R. 4301 would not let states decide whether Internet gambling is permitted within their borders. It would ban online gambling throughout the country, even in states that want to allow it. This is a strange sort of federalism.

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  1. What are the odds this goes anywhere?

    1. Better than the odds it will work once it does.

      It’s the World Wide Web, you fools.

  2. Screw Rick Perry.

    I do actually appreciate the fact that he tried to sound all party-ish a while back to impress us yokeltarian, but shit like this show he just doesn’t get it and he never will.

    1. s/partyish/tea-party-ish/

      1. Rick,…Fuuuuuuuuuuuuuck! Are you kidding me!

  3. I’d like Rand Paul to weigh in. He could carve himself some more fans from the not insubstantial poker community.

    1. Not like he’s gonna get any dough from Adelson anyway.

      1. Very good point.

  4. Adelson is such a repulsive crony scumbag. I remember when I had to drop my accoun on Sporting Bet because the hassle of avoiding the BS rules got to be too great.

    Fuck you, Adelson.

  5. So, the little ass puppet, Graham, has crawled out of his hole and has a new croney paw up his behind, making him pretend to talk like an intelligent entity?

    Primary his arse, SC, or you are a state of ball less imbeciles.

    1. making him pretend to talk like an intelligent entity?

      Not doing a very good job, is he?

  6. From what I understood, online gambling is already effectively outlawed because federal law prohibits payment processors from transmitting money to/from online gambling businesses. So I’m not sure what this law will do.

    Perhaps I’m wrong? Federal puritanism re: gambling, sex and drugs is difficult to keep track of…

    1. At a national level it more or less is, for the reason you describe, but in the states where it is legal (NV, NJ, DE) payment processors are allowed to accept and process deposits from participants in the state (including guests in the state), and under state-by-state agreements, would also be allowed to process deposits in states with reciprocal laws. This would sidestep all that by making the actual act of placing a wager over a computer network illegal.

  7. OT: California city weighs minimum wage of $12.30, among nation’s highest


    The higher wage would apply to most workers in the industrial city, although it would exempt businesses with fewer than 10 employees. It would also exempt the city’s youth summer employment and Welfare-to-Work programs.



    I love it when the govt. passes laws and then promptly excepts itself from them.

  8. I am not offended, to be honest.

    Is there a reasonable mechanism by which a gambling site could limit traffic to IP addresses within certain states?

    1. It wouldn’t matter that much since internet traffic routing isn’t like the highway system – just because you and a server are both in the same state doesn’t necessarily mean the route from your machine to the server is a linear path through networks only within that state. The “incidentally or otherwise” part is important. That would also effectively outlaw using a proxy or VPN service if you wager online.

  9. Wait, does the Wire Act of 1961 apply only to bookies and betting businesses, or would it also apply to a pair of friends who arrange a wager over the phone when they live in different states?

  10. OK wow man lets roll with it dude.

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