Congress

Rescheduled RAWA Hearing an Adelson-branded Dog ‘n Pony Show

The previously postponed Congressional hearing on the Restoration of America’s Wire Act bill (RAWA) has now been rescheduled for March 26th, according to information provided by Poker Players Alliance executive director John Pappas.

The rescheduling of the hearing for the controversial RAWA measure places the issue before the US House Judiciary Committee exactly three weeks after its initial postponement.  The RAWA hearing was shuffled back following the threat of a major March snowstorm.

congressThe mistitled RAWA measure, which if passed would impose a federal-level ban on most forms of online gambling within the US, continues to be a secretive affair.  Even though the first planned hearing on March 5th was canceled only a couple of days before being held, as the spring storm loomed, little information was available. Primary bill sponsor and committee member Rep. Jason Chaffetz and committee chair Rep. Bob Goodlatte had failed to publicly announce the hearing’s scheduled list of witnesses, and that information has still not been provided through the Judiciary Committee’s official site.

Nonetheless, the prospective witness hearing for the initial March 5th hearing eventually emerged, indicating that the entire hearing was intended to be something of a sham proceeding designed to please and appease the bill’s primary driving force, GOP megadonor Sheldon Adelson.  No information has surfaced to suggest that the planned witness list has been modified; to the contrary, the ongoing secrecy regarding the initial hearing implies that the political orchestration remains in effect.

That orchestration can also be seen in the still-unofficial (though verified) witness list for the original RAWA list; the same four people are likely to be on hand on March 26th.  According to a piece published at USPoker, these are the four witnesses lined up to provide opinions and insight on RAWA and online gambling in general:

  • Professor John Kindt, University of Illinois;
  • Les Bernal, National Director, Stop Predatory Gambling;
  • Professor Mike Fagan, Washington University – St. Louis Law School;
  • Parry Aftab, an attorney specializing in Internet privacy and security; Aftab is the only one of the four who could be described as either neutral or pro-online gaming, based on her former association with the Caesars-funded astroturf lobbying group FairPlay USA.

As has widely noted in numerous media reports, the RAWA witness list notably omits any actual industry representatives who could provide first-person insight regarding many of the issues in play.  For instance, David Rebuck, director of New Jersey’s Division of Gaming Enforcement, might be a natural fit as witness, and could certainly debunk many of the notorious falsehoods and claims regarding identity theft, underage and problem gambling that anti-gaming fanatics Kindt and Bernal are expected to offer.

(Rebuck, though, answers to NJ Governor Chris Christie, and potential presidential candidate Christie continues to suck up to Adelson, whose lobbyists crafted the RAWA bill.  Thus, Rebuck might have been under political pressure of sorts to not appear in D.C.)

Rebuck, though is only one example of an industry-knowledgeable person who’s been excluded from the discussion, likely at the discretion of Rep. Chaffetz and his office.  Possible invitees could have included representatives from Caesars Interactive (currently operating online in both Nevada and New Jersey), representatives from Nevada’s or Delaware’s state gambling regulatory agencies, or officials from the many technical service providers that work in support of the current US-facing sites.

The USPoker piece from earlier this month mentions CAMS CEO Matthew Katz, who could provide consider professional insight on various forms of identity security and protection, as one possible such witness.  But neither Katz nor any other technically proficient industry representative shows any signs of having been considered for a hearing invitation.

It all means, of course, that Rep. Chaffetz plans on running the RAWA hearing as a dog ‘n pony show, for the benefit and pleasure of Adelson.  While Adelson has demonstrated strong influence within the Judiciary Committee, and may be able to bribe fund enough Congressmen to bring RAWA up for a committee vote, it’s still unlikely that RAWA can pass all of Congress and be passed into law any time soon.

Each million that Adelson spends seems to antagonize a fresh new batch of faces or produce its eye-roll moment, such as in recent comments by Adelson executive toadie Andy Abboud, in an interview with Gambling Compliance, that Adelson, the RAWA bill’s true backer, is “unlikely to accept exemptions for state lotteries and tribes in a bill to prohibit Internet gambling.”

The massive chutzpah thus displayed by Adelson and his paid minions, that Adelson’s preferences outrank the legislative processes of both state and federal governments, is likely to strengthen the resolve of a growing coalition of anti-RAWA groups.  Whether one likes or dislikes the prospects of regulated US online gambling, both state lotteries and tribal-gaming operations are well entrenched and possess significant political clout of their own.

Adelson, at times, seems stuck in a time warp.  In his vision, one can presume, most forms of online gambling in the US are outlawed via RAWA, and gamblers by the millions, thus having few other options, will then flock to Las Vegas and his major casinos there, the Venetian and Palazzo.  It’s doubtful, though, that even Sheldon Adelson has the money and political muscle to make that weird vision a political reality.

Which returns us to next week’s rescheduled RAWA hearing before the House Judiciary.  There are always politicians who can be brought on board for a significant fee, whether it’s a new-right Tea Party conservative such as Jason Chaffetz or a technological Luddite such as US Sen. Lindsey Graham, another Adelson-backed pol who is again expected to submit a Senate version of RAWA in the near future.  These legislators can submit bills and get hearings scheduled, but it’s all appeasement — for a fee.  And RAWA stinks: The more light its growing cast of opponents cast on its workings and effects, the less likely it is that the bill will pass.

This also provides a lesson in exactly how anti-people and anti-democracy Sheldon Adelson and Jason Chaffetz really are as well.  Chaffetz likely doesn’t want that displayed, either.

Chaffetz’s RAWA bill has exactly 14 sponsors to date, a paltry number for a bill that’s been in play since last year’s first attempt to fly the measure.  Exactly one of these is a new sponsor in this, RAWA’s second Congressional go.  Of all the facts and figures that both sides continue to fling, this is one of the biggest money numbers of all.  If RAWA had realistic chances of passage, RAWA would have had several times its 14 co-sponsors already on board.

A massive state-level backlash against RAWA, should it somehow progress, would be inevitable.  Despite Adelson’s millions and his minions’ arrogance, that’s the eventual deciding factor.  It won’t stop the RAWA dog ‘n pony show, to be sure.  Political diligence remains necessary, and RAWA’s opponents are obligated to keep exposing Adelson’s power plays.  I’ll be watching and reporting on March 26th myself — if just for the wry chuckles.

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