Congressional online gaming ban? Here we go again. By Aaron Stanley February 26, 2015 at 1:28 pm It was deja vu all over again last week when Representatives Jason Chaffetz and Tulsi Gabbard re-introduced legislation in the U.S. House to restore the Wire Act to its pre-2011 status, with the intent of reinstating the ban on all online gambling. The three page “Restoration of America’s Wire Act” (RAWA) was identical to legislation introduced last year, legislation that went nowhere. Even in a more conservative, Republican-dominated Congress, and even though the arguments being made by both sides have changed, this year’s edition will surely meet a similar fate. The legislation’s best chance at becoming law came last December, when there was a fierce fight over whether it should be included in the so-called “CROmnibus” package that continued the funding of the U.S. government. So unless there’s a similar fiscal showdown that provokes a last minute scramble of lobbyists sneaking their pet bills into a must-pass bill, and the legislation gets the blessings of the powers that be, this particular bill has no chance of passage in this two-year session of Congress. Still, the existence of the bill is a sign that the debate is still raging over this issue and that there is a real possibility that Congress could act on this, if only at a whim. The arguments being wielded by opponents of the status quo do have merit and do resonate with a broad spectrum of the public. In promoting the measure, Rep. Chaffetz lashed out at the Justice Department’s action in December 2011, when it re-interpreted the Wire Act to give individual states jurisdiction over the matter of online gambling. Chaffetz argues that these types of decisions should be legislated by Congress rather than made by unaccountable, unelected officials. “In yet another example of executive branch overreach, the DOJ crossed the line by making what amounts to a massive policy change without debate or input from the people or their representatives. We must restore the original interpretation of the Wire Act. If there is justification and support for a change, the Constitution designates Congress as the body to debate that change and set that policy,” Chaffetz said in a statement. In an age when the president’s rulemaking via executive action has become very controversial, it’s no surprise that this sort of regulatory change is now seen with greater skepticism by the general public. Repealing a discretionary action of an executive agency is more compelling rationale to offer to conservatives as to why the Wire Act should be restored than is scare-mongering over children playing online and intoxicated college students blowing their parents’ savings on internet casinos – though Chaffetz has also rehashed these arguments. Perhaps Chaffetz is indeed a purist. He hails from Mormon-dominated Utah, one of only two states in the country that have completely rejected all forms of legalized gambling. But he’s also reported to have met last month with Sheldon Adelson, the stauch igaming foe, and has acknowledged, to no one’s surprise, the casino mogul’s involvement in pushing the bill. In opposition, the pro-igaming groups have also unveiled their trump card – rather than promoting the virtues of legal and regulated internet gambling, they have instead rallied around the principle of federalism as stated in the 10th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. “The legislation introduced by Representative Chaffetz would undo what Congress and the President have already authorized and strip states of their 10th Amendment right to regulate online poker sites within their own borders,” said John Pappas of the Poker Players Alliance in a statement. By arguing that intrastate igaming is a federalist issue – that states should be able to adopt laws without interference from the federal government, pro-igaming groups are craftily targeting constitutional conservative Republicans, who might be sympathetic to Adelson’s arguments or indebted to his campaign cash. Additionally, libertarian icon and former presidential candidate Ron Paul has been brought on board to help give resonance to the theme, as have conservative groups that trumpet states’ rights. “I urge you to reject the federalization of this issue, and instead allow the states to continue making their own decisions about the regulation of intrastate online gambling,” Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, wrote in a letter to members of Congress regarding RAWA. “Fortunately, the Constitution provides an answer for these strong differences of opinion: the 10th Amendment provides (or should provide) for states to make their own decisions about these issues.” For Republican members of Congress, Mr. Norquist – author of the widely-feared Taxpayer Protection Pledge – carries considerable weight; he is seen as someone best not to be on the wrong side of. So while the arguments in the debate have changed since last year, the end result of the proposed restoration of the Wire Act and thus of the federal ban on online gambling will likely be the same as last year, and the same as most initiatives in Congress during this session: a protracted stalemate.