Pennsylvania Online Gambling Bill Clears Two Senate Committee Votes

Pennsylvania Representative Actively Working Against Online Gambling Efforts

The regulation and legalization of online gambling – including poker – has seemed like an inevitability in Pennsylvania for as long as I can remember, or even as far back as when I used AltaVista as a search engine. But no matter how much support there is for online gambling in the legislature, the Commonwealth’s lawmakers still haven’t been able to come to an agreement on some of the details. That is just fine for Representative Brian Fitzpatrick, who has actively been working against his own state in Washington, D.C., trying to get online gambling banned nationwide.

According to an article on Reason.com, Fitzpatrick “….is working on a letter that calls for the Department of Justice to allow [Sheldon] Adelson’s army to sidestep the pesky legislative process altogether and unilaterally declare state efforts illegal.”

As readers of this site likely know, Sheldon Adelson, the CEO of the Las Vegas Sands Corp., has made it the mission of his twilight years to eradicate the United States of online gambling. The flashpoint in this battle was the Department of Justice’s clarification of the Wire Act in late 2011. The Wire Act was originally written to curb organized crime and make sports betting over telecommunications lines illegal, but for whatever reason, as the internet developed, the DoJ informally expanded the Act’s interpretation to include all gambling, including gambling over the internet, thus leading to the array of legal problems for internet gambling companies in the country.

In December 2011, the DoJ clarified the Wire Act, saying that it did, in fact, only apply to sports betting, which opened the door for individual states to develop their own regulated online gambling industries. This incensed Adelson, who claims that he wants to protect children and problem gamblers but is really scared that online gambling will take business away from his brick-and-mortar casino empire (he is wrong – it will complement it). He and his cronies developed the Restoration of America’s Wire Act (RAWA), a bill which would formally codify the previous, incorrect interpretation of the Wire Act. It has been introduced into Congress on a number of occasions, but by now, most lawmakers see it for the crony capitalism that it is and hasn’t gone much of anywhere.

But apparently, Rep. Fitzpatrick wants the Department of Justice to simply say that state-level legalized online gambling is illegal, a sort of “express-RAWA,” if you will, and be done with it.

The quest against online gambling is nothing new for the Fitzpatrick family, Brian’s older brother, Michael, introduced a bill in December 2016 with the intention of reversing the DoJ’s clarification of the Wire Act, saying that the clarification “does not carry the force of law.”

The meat of the bill is as follows:

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled,

SECTION 1. MEMORANDUM NOT TO HAVE FORCE AND EFFECT OF LAW.

The Memorandum Opinion for the Assistant Attorney General, Criminal Division, dated September 20, 2011, and pertaining to the lawfulness of proposals by Illinois and New York to use the Internet and out-of-state transaction processors to sell lottery tickets to in-state adults (including the applicability of the Wire Act (18 U.S.C. 1084) and the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (31 U.S.C. 5361–5367) to such proposal), does not carry the force of law and shall have no force and effect for purposes of interpreting or applying section 5362(a)(10) of title 31, United States Code.

Michael left Congress this year, deciding to call it quits after four terms. Brian ran for the same seat in the House that his brother held and won and is now continuing his assault on internet gambling.

But why would they be so against online gambling – to the point of trying to ban it nationwide – when there is such a strong push to legalize it in Pennsylvania? It’s one thing to vote against a regulation bill, but they are going to the mattresses against online poker. Well, it could have something to do with Fitzpatrick’s district being located in the southeast part of the state, right next to Bethlehem. Bethlehem just happens to be where one of Adelson’s casinos, Sands Bethlehem, is situated.

Could Brian Fitzpatrick – and his brother before him – be trying to curry favor with Adelson? I think that would be a good bet (see what I did there?).

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