Sheldon Adelson’s Minions Re-floating ‘RAWA Lite’ Concept

Faced with the prospect that his pet online gambling-banning bill isn’t going to go anywhere in Congress despite a heavy lobbying spend, Las Vegas Sands Corp. CEO Sheldon Adelson is continuing to pump funding into a backup plan designed to stonewall the slow but continuing interest of various US states into legalizing and regulating various forms of online gambling.

congressTermed “RAWA Lite,” and pitched toward DC pols as an alternative to the Adelson-funded, US Constitution-bending “Restoration of America’s Wire Act” (RAWA) measure, the slightly watered-down plan first emerged in July when it became clear that RAWA was unlikely to advance in the US Congress.  It turned out that even the conservative GOP politicians otherwise most happy to accept billionaire Adelson’s donations still couldn’t quite swallow Adelson’s hoped-for quid pro quo: An expansion of the 1961 Wire Act that would ban virtually all online gambling forms and leave Adelson’s sprawling casino empire as one of the few legal gambling games in the US.

Faced with across-the-board calls of blatant “crony capitalism,” Adelson’s hired guns hatched RAWA Lite.  According to a handful of recent news updates, it’s still being pitched by them in the halls of Congress.

Whereas the original RAWA would have enacted a blanket ban in the US against online gambling, the RAWA Lite version would instead institute a “moratorium,” attempting to forbid more US states from legalizing and regulating online gambling while more studies are done.  Exactly what the studies are supposed to accomplish that’s different than those that already exist isn’t quite clear; online gambling is increasingly understood to be a complimentary, non-cannibalising form of gambling that can compliment existing land-based venues.  But the Adelson camp doesn’t want to hear about that research; they want to fund their own, control the results through leading questions and assumptive findings, then reshape the argument in Congress.

RAWA Lite indeed allows the three US states that have officially approved online poker and/or other forms of online casino gambling to continue offering those games.  At the present, that includes Nevada, New Jersey and Delaware.  Though the specific language of RAWA Lite has yet to emerge, it is quite possible that the small handful of states that have already authorized online lottery sales would also be grandfathered in, because that’s another “online” gambling market or competition that Adelson hopes to eliminate.

However, there’s a historical catch here that both backers and foes of RAWA and RAWA Lite need to remember.  “Banning” laws that impact state-level business typically include a grace period during which states themselves are urged to consider the topic.  The law that banned sports betting in much of the US, 1992’s PASPA, is one such example.  While Nevada was grandfathered in, all other US states had a year in which the could have legaliozed and enacted Nevada-style sports betting.  None did so.  However, attitudes have changed in the nearly quarter century since.

Carry that structure forward.  If one assumes that the original RAWA is dead as a doornail and that this slightly less obnoxious “RAWA Lite” alternative could somehow generate support as a major US election cycle approaches (read: it ain’t happening for RAWA Lite, either), then individual US states would likely still have a window in which to pass legalization laws.

The odd thing is, the prior New Jersey / PASPA example and the threat of a possible RAWA Lite-inflicted moratorium could be the very boost that some states need to move stalled regulatory legislation.  Already, legislators in both Pennsylvania and New York have cited the possible RAWA threats from Adelson as a reason to move on online-gambling legalization bills now, rather than allow the US Congress any chance of usurpring states’ rights and shutting down possible revenue streams.

RAWA Lite isn’t much more likely to pass than its predecessor, the original RAWA.  And yes, the passage of the bill would be bad news indeed for American gambling interests.  All that said, talk about RAWA and the threat it poses isn’t much of a bad thing at all.


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