RAWA Nears Legislative Graveyard after Adelson, Las Vegas Sands Shift Focus

There’s unofficial good news on the United States federal-legislation front regarding online poker and online gambling in general following the apparent, and still ongoing, demise of the Sheldon Adelson-funded “Restoration of America’s Wire Act” [RAWA] bill.  RAWA, the vehicle through which Adelson and his Las Vegas Sands Corporation hoped to institute a US-wide ban on virtually all forms of online gambling.

adelsonHowever, and despite tens of millions of dollars spent by multi-billionaire Adelson on RAWA’s behalf, the bill has failed to garner serious traction.  Even a watered-down version of the bill dubbed “RAWA Lite” failed to catch on, with Adelson’s bills derided widely across the American political spectrum as a garish example of “crony capitalism.”  Adelson’s thin base of purchased political backers also appears to be fragmenting, evidenced by primary RAWA backer and struggling GOP presidential candidate Marco Rubio recently stating that he’d concede to an online-poker carveout within RAWA.

RAWA’s demise may be near.  Today, Gambling Compliance is reporting that Adelson and Las Vegas Sands Corp. plan to step away from the central focus of RAWA, and instead transform their efforts into a new bill that would seek a federal ban against all forms of offshore, unlicensed online gambling.

By its very nature, such a refocusing would require support for federal-level regulation of online gambling.  Regulating it, instead of just trying to ban it, is the core shift that Adelson has fought against for years, resulting in the fracturing of the US casino lobbying industry as well.

“We haven’t backed off of our focus on [RAWA], but we need to find a way … to be able to shut down illegal offshore operators,” said Andy Abboud, Las Vegas Sands’ vice president of government relations and community development to GC.  Abboud, a career lobbyist, has been LV Sands’ full-time point man on the RAWA topic, with often-disastrous results.

Abboud derided the efforts of US-based poker players to continue their battle against RAWA, noting that online poker, hobble by a lack of player liquidity, has under-performed as a category.  Referring to online poker, Abboud said, “It is the Edsel of gaming.  It’s a bust. It’s a lemon. Nevada doesn’t even report [Internet poker revenue] anymore as a line item. It’s just added into poker numbers.”

That sounds suspiciously like sour grapes from a man whose distaste for and lack of knowledge of how the poker world operates frequently translated into ready-made fodder for his opponents.

The Poker Players Alliance was quick to pounce on the news of Adelson’s and Las Vegas Sands’ continuing push for RAWA.  However, the PPA stopped short of announcing plans for a victory parade.  A PPA staffer noted on the group’s Twitter page, “Sands may be trying a head fake, so we will keep up our defensive intensity.”  In recent days, the group has issued multiple calls to Sen. Rubio to abandon his support of the RAWA bill;  RAWA’s other primary Senate backer, Lindsey Graham, has long since withdrawn as a presidential candidate.

Said PPA Vice President Rich Muny, “RAWA still exists, so this is no victory lap. We all need to keep up the pressure on lawmakers and ensure this does not end up sneaked in later on.”

The PPA’s Executive Director, John Pappas, sounded a similar cautionary note while looking forward to what an abandonment of RAWA might mean.  “If Sands is serious about addressing the unregulated offshore market, they should join us in trying to replace it with a regulated U.S. market,” Pappas said.

Also suddenly on the table is that a shift away from RAWA’s “ban everything” premise is that if Adelson and Las Vegas Sands Corp. agreed to pursue a regulatory solution, even haltingly and unwillingly, it would allow the American Gaming Association to unify its membership and resume work on the topic.  The AGA has been effectively neutered for several years on the topic of online-gambling legalization after Adelson threatened to leave the group.  The AGA is the US’s largest casino-industry lobbying group, but has been muffled on the topic by Adelson’s threatened withdrawal for nearly two years.


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