Despite the 11th hour addition of testimony from a witness that opposes federal anti-online gambling regulations, the RAWA debate on Capitol Hill yesterday did not go well for the online poker community. Fear-mongering testimony from three of the five panelists served casino magnate Sheldon Adelson well.
The RAWA debate was bought and paid for by Mr. Adelson, CEO of Las Vegas Sands Corp who made his billions off the land-based gambling industry. That alone did not bode well for online poker advocates, and putting RAWA’s presenter, Rep. Jason Chaffetz, in charge of the proceedings, with an additional 5 RAWA co-sponsors seated on the 16-member House Judiciary Subcommittee, didn’t help either.
John Kindt Testimony at RAWA Debate
As expected, the testimony of John Kindt was spewed forth in his usual, radicalistic manner. Kindt regurgitated the same old arguments, quoting (and often misrepresenting) research papers that dated back as many as two decades.
“Internet gambling places real-time gambling on every cell phone, at every school desk, at every work desk, and in every living room,” said Kindt, followed by a direct quote from Sheldon Adelson. “With ease people can click your phone, lose your home or click your mouse, lose your house.”
He then continued by citing 15 year old documents that claimed online gambling cannot be successfully regulated, and quoted the titles of fear-mongering publications scripted to scare the public about online gambling; publications that he himself edited before they went to print. Of course, he didn’t mention his role in altering those titles.
Quoting an article published in 1995, during the most infantile stages of the World Wide Web, Kindt said, “Killing personal, business, and institutional finances, Internet gambling is widely known as the killer app of the Internet.”
Michael Fagan Testimony at RAWA Debate
Michael Fagan picked up right where Kindt left off, arguing that online gambling could never be policed by any local, state or federal government, to the extent necessary. “Realistically, no police force or regulatory body will be big enough, skilled enough or funded enough,” said Fagan.
He went on to rebuke the potential for an online poker carveout in RAWA, despite the fact that the RAWA legislation currently contains no such carveout.
Les Bernal Testimony at RAWA Debate
The National Director of Stop Predatory Gambling, Les Bernal based the girth of his testimony on the basis that there isn’t a significant amount of people asking for a regulated iGaming market.
“Citizens are not clamoring for these extreme forms of gambling. States, in partnership with commercial gambling operators, are forcing these gambling games onto the public,” claimed Bernal. “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?”
If nothing else, Bernal’s statements should be a beacon to online poker and casino enthusiasts all over the United States, bringing their attention to the irrepressible need to contact their local and state officials and make their voices heard.
Parry Aftab Testimony at RAWA Debate
The first voice of reason came from Parry Aftab, Executive Director of Wired Safety. Ms. Aftab argued that online gambling regulation is an absolute necessity to protect consumers, and presented research that shows the industry can be successfully regulated and monitored; a direct contradiction to the claims of Mr. Fagan.
Wired Safety has been involved in all three authorized online gaming markets in the US – Delaware, Nevada, and New Jersey – surveying all regulators for nearly two years now. “The verdict is in,” said Aftab. “With the exception of a handful of incidents which were quickly addressed, all stakeholders are safer and minors are being locked out of online gambling sites.
“It is much easier for [minors] to get fake IDs and wander into a brick-and-mortar casino than get past the levels of age-gating used by online casinos,” Aftab continued. “If you can’t prove that you are an adult, the site is closed to you. Period.”
Andrew Moylan Testimony at RAWA Debate
The last witness added to the panel, R Street Institute’s Executive Director Andrew Moylan argued that a federal online gambling prohibition would negate states’ rights, and that such an overreach of congressional power was unnecessary.
“If a state wishes to prohibit gambling within its borders, it has the sufficient power to do so and sufficient legal remedies at its disposal”, explained Moylan.
House Subcommittee Response to Testimony
The majority of the Subcommittee sided with RAWA’s supporters, as was to be expected, but not everyone. Some of the more memorable comments from members are listed below.
Rep. Jason Chaffetz [R-Utah] said online gambling is a states’ rights issue, and that his concern lies with states that do not want to regulate online gambling, such as his home state of Utah. “We don’t have any form of gaming whatsoever, and it’s naïve to think you can create these fictitious borders and prohibit it from coming into the state of Utah,” argued Chaffetz. “It is fiction for anyone to believe they can virtually create these borders.” He went on to imply that any tech-savvy 16 year old would have no problem circumventing geolocation and/or age-verification systems to gambling online.
Rep. Bob Goodlatte [R-Virginia], Chairman of the Judiciary Committee, delivered the opening statement at the RAWA debate, immediately getting behind the legislation. “I am personally opposed to Internet gambling because it is used as a mechanism to launder money, because it causes bankruptcy and breaks up families, and because it can even lead to suicide, as it did for a constituent from my district.” Because it is considered an ‘Internet commerce’, Rep. Goodlatte said the federal government should be involved in online gambling laws.
Rep. Cedric Richmond [D-Louisiana] seemed to oppose RAWA but kept his comments to a minimum. His main concern was how the passage of RAWA would impact the online lottery sales in his home state of Louisiana. To that, Ms. Aftab responded that if RAWA is passed, Louisiana’s online lottery would be shut down.
Rep. Ted Poe [R-Texas] clearly disagreed with RAWA, saying that he fears a blanket ban of online gambling would only serve to increase the current crime rate, mirroring the results of prohibition.
Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee [D-Texas] told the committee that, while she appreciates the social impact gambling can have on families, she is concerned that RAWA oversteps its bounds in terms of intruding upon states’ rights.