RAWA Demon Spawn Introduced in Senate

Why won’t Sheldon Adelson just go away already? Adelson, the Las Vegas Sands Corp. CEO and the force behind the Restoration of America’s Wire Act (RAWA) is 83 years old and Scrooge McDuck rich. You would think he would be happy just chilling out and enjoying his twilight years. You know, doing things like having his servants, both human and robotic, make him a tuna salad sandwich on rye (no caraway seeds, crusts cut off) at three o’clock in the morning. Or maybe have his driver escort him to the airport so that he can bribe TSA officials to let him choose who gets randomly searched in the security line. But no, Adelson is determined to do “whatever it takes” to make sure nobody in the United States can gamble online.

We cautiously thought we were finished with him earlier this year, when Senator Lindsey Graham (R – SC), a man whose bid to become the Republican presidential candidate went so poorly that he was put in the kids’ table debate, failed to get Adelson’s RAWA attached to the Senate Appropriations Bill. Before then, there had been a couple token hearings on RAWA, held by Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R – Utah), who carried both RAWA and Adelson’s jock into the House of Representatives, but those hearings were largely seen – correctly – as farces. Very few legislators from either side of the aisle were in favor of RAWA. When Graham’s sneaky attempt to push it through didn’t work, it was thought that perhaps RAWA was finally done.


On Friday, Senator Tom Cotton (R- Ark) took up Adelson’s mantle, introducing a new anti-online gaming bill, S. 3376. It is not exactly RAWA insomuch that it does not include the exact same verbiage, but really, it is RAWA II.

Senator Tom Cotton (R - Ark.)

Senator Tom Cotton (R – Ark.)

The title of the bill is, get this, “A bill to ensure the integrity of laws enacted to prevent the use of financial instruments for funding or operating online casinos are not undermined by legal opinions not carrying the force of law issued by Federal Government lawyers.”

After that, there is almost nothing. Aside from another sentence providing additional detail about the “legal opinions not carrying the force of law issued by Federal Government lawyers,” S. 3376 is empty. But that’s not important right now. The important thing is that it got filed and therefore could be tacked on to other legislation before the end of the year should it not be able to make any headway on its own. And we know it won’t be able to gain traction, so it would HAVE to tag along with another bill at some point.

So what is this bill, even before more words are added, trying to accomplish? Well, let’s look at the title above. The first half says, “laws enacted to prevent the use of financial instruments for funding or operating online casinos.” This is pretty clearly referring to the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006 (UIGEA), which was intended to do just that: make the transfer of funds between financial institutions and “illegal” online gambling sites, such as online poker rooms, illegal.

Despite what many online poker fans will say, the UIGEA has not been completely ineffective. Many online poker rooms and networks exited the U.S. market after it passed and have refused to accept U.S. customers. Those that stayed had to come up with more complicated, less reliable, and slower ways to transfer money using methods that included disguising the source of funds. Black Friday in April 2011 was the day of reckoning for some of those sites; the only one to truly survive it was PokerStars, which only very recently entered the New Jersey market.  But still, people in the U.S. can still play on unlicensed sites, even if it isn’t as easy as it used to be. This bill looks like it wants to enforce the UIGEA more strongly than it has been.

The second part, that of the “legal opinions,” is basically RAWA in shorthand form. RAWA was born out of an opinion issued by the Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) in late 2011, in which it clarified that the Wire Act, long interpreted as forbidding all online gambling, only made online sports betting illegal. It was a long overdue clarification and was completely correct, yet it sent online poker opponents such as Sheldon Adelson into a tizzy.

RAWA was Adelson’s answer to the OLC clarification, as it sought to “restore” the incorrect interpretation of the Wire Act, officially making all online gambling illegal in the United States. And that’s really what the second part of the title of S.3376 looks to do – reverse the OLC’s 2011 clarification.

That clarification is mentioned specifically in the lone section of the bill, which reads, “The Memorandum Opinion for the Assistant Attorney General of the Criminal Division of the Department of Justice, dated September 20, 2011, shall have no force or effect for the purposes of interpreting section 5362(10) of title 31, United States Code.”

The bill has two co-sponsors so far. One is Lindsey Graham, who introduced RAWA in the Senate and would likely do anything to be the Smithers to Adelson’s Montgomery Burns, and Mike Lee (R – Utah) who just so happens to hail from the same state as Jason Chaffetz, one of two states with no legal gambling of any kind.


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