Online Gambling

Is Sheldon Adelson's Online Gambling Ban Unconstitutional, or Is It Constitutionally Required?

An anti-gambling activist testifies that a protectionist bill is needed to guarantee equal protection.

|

Wikipedia

Today a House subcommittee held a hearing on the Restoration of America's Wire Act, which would ban online gambling throughout the country, even in states that choose to allow it. The witnesses included Andrew Moylan, executive director of the R Street Institute, who explained why that policy would violate the federalist principles reflected in the 10th Amendment.

The bill, introduced last month by Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), prohibits "any bet or wager" communicated by "any transmission over the Internet carried interstate or in foreign commerce, incidentally or otherwise." Those last three words "carry a tremendous amount of weight," Moylan noted, because they make the ban applicable to wholly intrastate betting that happens to be routed through equipment located in another state. "To treat all use of the Internet, no matter its nature, no matter the individuals or entities it might connect, as 'per se interstate' and thus subject to Commerce Clause regulation," he argued, "would constitute an enormous shove down the slippery slope toward federal power without meaningful limits." Ron Paul agreed.

Nonsense, said Les Bernal, national director of Stop Predatory Gambling, who told the subcommittee that, far from exercising the powers reserved to them by the Constitution, states that choose to allow "extreme forms of gambling" are violating the 14th Amendment's Equal Protection Clause. "One important job of the federal government is to ensure that every state gives every citizen equal protections under the law," he noted. How is that relevant here? Bernal never got around to explaining that, so you'll have to take his word for it.

In addition to redefining an unconstitutional bill as constitutionally required, Bernal redefines voluntary transactions as predatory crimes (as you might guess from the name of his group). Hence a state that allows online betting is "forc[ing] casino gambling and lottery games into every bedroom, dorm room and smart phone in their communities." Although people should be free to gamble if they want, Bernal says, no one should be free to help them at a profit:

People are, and should remain, free to wager money and to play games of chance for money. While citizens have every right to engage in a financially damaging activity, the government has no business encouraging them. Government, in this case, is not merely permitting private, consensual behavior. It is granting monopolies and awarding regulatory advantages to favored firms.

There is plenty of room to criticize special legal privileges that states grant particular businesses, whether in this industry or others. But Bernal seems to view any commercial gambling permitted by the government as a form of state-sponsored gambling. Bernal clearly is offended by state lotteries. I am too. But unlike Bernal, I do not think that refraining from arresting someone for helping people play poker online is morally equivalent to a state-sponsored poker monopoly. And none of this has anything to do with the federal government's constitutional authority to override state policy choices regarding gambling.

Most of the arguments raised by Bernal and other supporters of Chaffetz's bill apply with equal force to offline gambling. Yet the most influential private citizen pushing this ban is casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, a major Republican donor who is keen to suppress his online competition and whose lobbyist helped write the bill. That looks like precisely the sort of rent-seeking behavior that supposedly offends Bernal.

"Today's hearing was about one thing: checking the box to advance Mr. Adelson's bill," says John Pappas, executive director of the Poker Players Alliance, who testified against the bill. "If an unelected billionaire is granted the power to rewrite history by imposing a federal prohibition, the future is bleak for every American who values their Internet freedom."

NEXT: High-Tax Connecticut Plans to Mug Its Residents Even Harder

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. I miss the 1920s. A more innocent time, when we thought we needed a Constitutional amendment in order to make something illegal.

    1. I make up to usd90 an hour working from my home. My story is that I quit working at Walmart to work online and with a little effort I easily bring in around $40h to usd86h Someone was good to me by sharing this link with me, so now i am hoping i could help someone else out there by sharing this link……… Try it, you won’t regret it!… http://www.wixjob.com

      1. Walmart employees use the term “USD”. Who knew?

        1. Considering not a few employees there are fresh off the boat (or plane) and often don’t speak English very well, it wouldn’t be surprising.

  2. so how much money did Chaffetz get paid by Adelson to submit the bill? 3 to 1 odds it was 7 figures…

    1. To be fair, it’s understandable that this guy thinks he’s powerful enough to pull this off. After all he’s got presidential candidates going to Vegas to kiss his ring.

      1. he’s got the GOP establishment on their knees surrounding his rotating bed

  3. states that choose to allow “extreme forms of gambling” are violating the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause.

    If we are going to apply EP analysis to activities regulated by the states, we have a couple of options. We either have to race to the bottom, and prohibit any state from allowing something banned by any other state.

    Or we have a race to the top, prohibiting any state from banning something allowed by any other state.

    I might note that the EP is currently being applied to certain controversial licensing issues more along the lines of the race to the top.

    So if I was this slackjawed drooling moron of a lobbyist, I’d be pretty slow to start demanding that EP level out state laws.

  4. How about we just apply the law to state lottery agencies? They are verifiably more predatory than anything Vegas can dream of…

  5. Yes, divert problem gamblers to the casinos, who have an established record of keeping people’s gambling on a moderate level.

  6. Commenting over shit like this is like shooting a billion empty sperm at a gaping and ravenous vagina expecting to spew progeny.

    Clock fingers turn and nothing the fuck seems to abate the advance of the giant claw ripping out the goddamn beating soul of wondrous liberty.

    The social numbers are, oddly, stacked against the awe and tumble of those who swim in the clouds. They catch us with earth hooks and drag our spines into their weak turbines.

  7. This rich casino guy is like a liberal novelist’s conception of a Republican businessman – getting money from Las Vegas and then sponsoring morals legislation which lines his own pockets.

    In fact, I think I’ve seen guys like him in movies. He’s the wealthy philanthropist to whom we’re introduced in the beginning, and it’s obvious he’s the bad guy, but officially the Big Reveal comes later in the film, and it turns out his philanthropy is designed to keep attention away from his orphan-staffed monocle-polishing mine.

    Haven’t you guys seen this sort of movie?

    1. “Officer McGonicle, I told you not to pursue this ridiculous investigation against one of our most distinguished citizens, but you wouldn’t obey.”

      “But Mr. Mephistopheles is using Tentacle Industries to poison the water…”

      “I don’t want to hear it, you’re off the case.”

      “Look, you know I’ll just disobey you and team up with my opposites-attract partner and crack the case, and Mr. Mephistopheles will go to prison.”

      “And when that happens, McGonicle, I’ll say I was behind you all along.”

  8. The bill, introduced last month by Rep. Jason Chaffetz

    So is booger now having a hisssy because he can’t stop DC from legalizing weed, so he has to find another way to prove that he’s a a dickless jackass?

  9. And the left demonizes the Kochs when there are people like this guy out there . . .

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.