Republicans Still Seeking Casino Cronyism

Online gambling is under attack.

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Congress has done little to demonstrate that it can solve the nation's most pressing problems. The health care system continues to deteriorate after the failure to repeal Obamacare; tax reform is off to a rocky and uninspiring start because of the initial counterproductive fixation on imposing a border adjustment tax; and the debt limit is fast approaching yet again, with little hope that federal spending will be brought under control. With such significant matters to resolve, it's particularly odd for members of Congress to keep trying to meddle in state efforts to legalize intrastate online gambling. Unfortunately, it seems that cronyism never sleeps.

Two efforts are underway to undermine state authorities who want to set their own rules for online gaming and lottery sales. The issue is a fixation of GOP megadonor Sheldon Adelson, whose bricks-and-mortar Las Vegas casinos are threatened by competition from online gambling.

Always eager to do the bidding of interest groups, Rep. Charlie Dent, (R-Pa.), is expected to try yet again to attach language to an upcoming appropriations bill that would accomplish by other means what the multiple failed efforts to pass the Restoration of America's Wire Act could not: to stop the advancement of state efforts to legalize and regulate online gaming within their borders as they see fit.

While Dent is hoping to slip language into an appropriations bill, Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, (R-Pa.), is working on a letter that calls for the Department of Justice to allow Adelson's army to sidestep the pesky legislative process altogether and unilaterally declare state efforts illegal.

The point of contention is a 2011 memo from the DOJ's Office of Legal Counsel concluding that the 1961 Wire Act actually means what it says. Although it was enacted before the internet existed and specifically addresses only "interstate or foreign commerce of bets or wagers … on any sporting event or contest," for a long time the Wire Act was used much more broadly.

In a move that was long overdue, the DOJ finally reversed course in 2011 and began to apply the Wire Act correctly by noting that intrastate, non-sports-related gambling is clearly not prohibited by it. Adelson has been on the warpath ever since as multiple states—e.g., Pennsylvania, Illinois and New York—seek to expand licensed online gambling for their residents.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions gave a troubling answer to a question from Sen. Lindsey Graham, (R-S.C.)—himself a full-throated supporter of an online gambling ban in 2014—during his confirmation hearing that indicated his desire to revisit the DOJ's 2011 reinterpretation. This is hardly surprising, as Sessions is well-known for his lack of qualms about federal overreach to stop behaviors that don't sit well with his conservative preferences—for example, marijuana consumption—even though they don't affect or hurt anyone but the people engaged in them. However, he was forced to recuse himself from the issue after it was disclosed that the attorney he hired to represent him on issues related to investigations of Russian interference in the election was also a Restoration of America's Wire Act lobbyist.

Losing an ally like Sessions doesn't mean this blatant effort at cronyism is going to stop, not when a billionaire like Adelson is willing to go to any lengths to keep the pressure on. Unfortunately, it's rather telling that as Republicans struggle to implement their agenda, they continue to waste time pursuing corporate handouts that run counter to their frequently cited federalist principle of noninterference in state affairs.

It also runs counter to the preference of conservative voters. According to polling data collected during the Conservative Political Action Conference last February in Maryland, 91 percent of respondents opposed congressional intrusion on states' rights when it comes to online gambling. These voters could also see right through Congress' dirty tricks, with 89 percent viewing such efforts as "crony capitalism."

Instead of wasting precious legislative time trying to trample states' rights and impose their conservative agenda on people simply pursuing their right to do and play as they see fit with their own money without hurting anyone, Republicans in Congress should focus on reforming the tax code and fixing health care. That's what they got elected to do.

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  1. …multiple states?e.g., Pennsylvania, Illinois and New York?seek to expand licensed online gambling for their residents.

    Oh, V, please, you aren’t this naive are you? Of course not!

    1. I don’t know about Pennsylvania and New York, but for someone raised on the notion that ‘gambling is a tax on the stupid’, there sure are a lot of people who like to head out to Elgin or ‘The Boats’ and have more than once heard someone say that they’d go more often if it weren’t so far.

    2. What’s naive about expecting that PA, IL, and NY can do exactly what NJ, DE, and NV have been doing for more than four years without a single reported case of a person outside of these states gaining access to their gambling sites (not to mention 33 countries in Europe plus Canada and Mexico that have had online gambling for decades)? They’ve all managed to utilize technologies to limit online gambling access to only people within their borders, what makes you think other states can’t do the same?

  2. I bet this 2018 budget will have all sorts of cronyism riders just like budgets before it.

  3. Democrats and libertarians should boycott Sheldon Adelson’s casinos.

    1. Always been an MGM/Mandalay customer.

    2. Probably, and Republicans and libertarians should boycott the Indian Casinos, but life is pretty miserable if I have to consult boycotopedia before I buy anything or stay anywhere. The offense has to be pretty egregious before I boycott something.

      On the otherhand, maybe there’s money in the boycottopedia app. Just enter your name and political affiliation, as well as the business you are thinking of patronizing or the state you are thinking of driving through and it will tell you how many indulgences you need to purchase to assuage your guilty conscience.

    3. I boycott all casinos. Has anyone here ever seen the movie “Casino”? I doubt that many casino gamblers have.

      1. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great movie.

  4. When I toss dice I like to be leaning against the rail with the actual dice in my hand, but to each their own. And good idea above – fuck you Adelson, I’m staying downtown at the Horseshoe the next time I’m in Vegas, where the cocktail lady comes around every 5 minutes and they don’t water down the booze.

    1. I prefer a friendly game of poker at home. That’s fair, fun, and requires skill. Casinos suck ass. The odds always favor the house.

      1. Who pays for these fantastic palaces with circuses and magicians with white tigers? The suckers… umm.. customers.

  5. runs counter to the preference of conservative voters. According to polling data collected during the Conservative Political Action Conference last February in Maryland, 91 percent of respondents opposed congressional intrusion on states’ rights when it comes to online gambling

    Instead of wasting precious legislative time trying to trample states’ rights and impose their conservative agenda

    Anyone see the conflict in these two statements? Me neither.

    1. He meant “impose their conservative agenda”. It couldn’t be clearer.

      1. I certainly see their (really his) agenda, but that’s about it.

        1. Adelson deserves Joe Pesci’s fate in Casino.

    2. “conservative voters…conservative establishment”

      There turns out to be a gap between these groups.

  6. Team Stupid’s gotta stupid. And cronies gotta crony.

    1. +1 reality

  7. Republicans in Congress should focus on reforming the tax code and fixing health care. That’s what they got elected to do.

    Yeah but those things are way too complicated. Corruption, graft, and crony capitalism are easy. All you have to do is whatever the nice billionaire with the open checkbook tells you to do. You don’t even have to think for yourself.

    1. They got elected to get reelected.

      1. +2 realities

  8. “I am shocked, shocked to find ze cronyism going on here!”

    1. -2 realities

  9. Adelson has been on the warpath ever since…

    Not Okay.

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