US Committee to review Federal Online Poker Ban RAWA on Thursday

On February 4, 2015, House Representative Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) reintroduced his federal online poker ban HR 707, known as the Restoration of America’s Wire Act, or RAWA for short. A hearing has been scheduled for Thursday, March 5, to discuss the bill.

The Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security and Investigations will convene at 9:30am on Thursday to discuss RAWA. The intention of the bill is to reverse the existing definition of the Wire Act issued by the US Department of Justice on December 23, 2011. Prior to that date, the Wire Act prohibited all forms of online gambling. The current opinion, however, only outlaws online wagers on sports events and contests.

Since the 2011 opinion was initiated, all US states were given the option of legalizing and regulating certain forms of internet wagering, including online poker, casino games and lotteries. Since then, three states chose to regulate online poker. Delaware, Nevada and New Jersey each launched interactive gaming markets in 2013.

Rep Jason Chaffetz bill, HR 707 RAWA to be heard by Congressional SubcommitteeIf Rep. Chaffetz (pictured right) gets his way, the passage of HR 707 would not only enforce a blanket ban of online gambling throughout the United States, but would also obligate those three states to shut down their existing iGaming markets. However, it’s also possible that the bill would be amended prior to passage to allow states who have already introduced regulated online poker to maintain their operations, while banning further regulation by other states.

The last time a committee met on Capitol Hill to discuss a federal ban of online poker was in 2013. At that time, the Sheldon Adelson-backed prohibition held very little support in Congress. According to GovTrack.us, RAWA currently has a “1% chance of being enacted”. But these days it seems Adelson’s efforts have gained a lot more support, and it could pose a real threat to the nascent online poker industry in the US.

One problem is every politician’s desire for financial backing. Every official needs campaign dollars to run for office or re-election, and Adelson, the billionaire CEO of Las Vegas Sands Corp, has plenty of those to spare. The casino magnate said last year that he would spend “whatever it takes” to get his blanket ban of online gambling passed on a federal level, and if enough politicians acquiesce to his ideals in return for financial backing, RAWA may find itself garnering a lot more support in this session.

A list of attendees and testimonials for the hearing has not yet been published, so it’s hard to gauge just how many supporters and opponents will be on hand to debate RAWA this week. A representative of the Poker Players Alliance (PPA) said they are unsure whether any pro-online poker speakers will even be present.

Seth Palansky, the Vice President and Editor in Chief of Corporate Communications for the WSOP, responded to questioning from CardPlayer Magazine, expressing his fears for the future of online poker. “We certainly take the threat seriously and so should poker players and the poker community at large,” said Palansky.

If the bill is approved by the Subcommittee at the HR 707 hearing on Thursday, it will then be introduced to the House for approval, followed by a run through the Senate. Should HR 707 be passed by both, it will then travel to the desk of President Obama, whose signature would be the final requirement to push RAWA into the law books.

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