Strategies For House Hearing On Banning Regulated Online Poker

5 Ways Supporters Of Regulated Online Gambling Can Win the March 5th RAWA House Hearing

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On March 5th the House Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security, and Investigations will hold a hearing to discuss the Restoration of America’s Wire Act (RAWA).

The Subcommittee is a very RAWA-friendly group, as its members include RAWA sponsor Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) and four cosponsors of RAWA.  The witness list for the hearing has yet to be unveiled, but most suspect it will tilt heavily towards RAWA supporters.

That being said, the hearing, no matter how slanted in Adelson’s favor, offers the potential to poke holes in the RAWA argument and push a pro-legalization message forward.

Here is how I would suggest anyone opposed to RAWA go about it.

1) Call for real-time demonstrations of the technology

The very first thing I would do is take the debate over online gambling from theoretical to tangible by calling for real-time demonstrations.

Let’s stop supposing, and see what player verification and geolocation technology is actually capable of.

This is unlikely to occur during the March 5th hearing, but any pro-legalization witnesses or lawmakers on the subcommittee could challenge Chaffetz et al. to take part in a demonstration showcasing the difference between regulated and unregulated online poker sites.

The first demonstration I would suggest: try to sit down at a real-money online poker table from Washington DC, first at a licensed online poker site in New Jersey or Nevada, and next at an illegal site such as Carbon Poker or Americas Cardroom.

I would follow this up by trying to create an account using a false identity and see how far along they get in the process I can get.

The second real-time demonstration I would insist on is having Anna Sainsbury from GeoComply and her awe-inspiring real-time demo of geolocation technology currently in place in New Jersey on display. GeoComply’s technology was demonstrated in front of several state legislatures and essentially put an end to any questions about the ability of the technology to do what it says.

2) Point out RAWA’s carveout contradiction

The second thing I would hammer home would be RAWA’s exemptions.

If the problem is, as RAWA advocates purport, that online gambling lacks the safeguards of land-based gambling, why are there exemptions for online horseracing and fantasy sports?

Are these industries somehow capable of taming the Internet whereas an online poker site cannot?

If I understand their logic, having a racetrack and quasi-sportsbook in every home in the United States is perfectly fine, but poker and casino games are a bridge too far.

To really drive this point home, any pro-regulation lawmaker should ask whichever Adelson representative is present the following question: What is it that online racebooks are capable of doing to prevent problem and underage gamblers from gaining access that an online casino is not?

3) Point out RAWA’s hypocrisy regarding federal overreach

Another often repeated talking points employed by RAWA supporters also provides an opportunity for iGaming advocates to go on the offensive: The idea that the Wire Act opinion from 2011 is a case of federal overreach.

RAWA supporters like to talk about the federal overreach that took place in the “bowels of the Department of Justice” by the Office of Legal Counsel, that allowed states to pass online gambling laws.

Yet, for some inexplicable reason they don’t consider a blanket ban by Congress federal overreach?

This is something that needs to be continually brought up until they give a satisfactory answer.

4) Where are the expert witnesses?

Next I would question the legitimacy of the hearing.

Why isn’t a representative of one of the current legal online gaming operators in attendance?

Why wasn’t the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement or Nevada Gaming Control Board invited to share their experiences thus far with regulated online gambling? These are, after all, the same regulators that provide oversight for land-based casinos, including Sheldon Adelson’s Las Vegas properties.

I’m sure we’ll see some lobbyists and former politicians who have zero experience with online gaming or gaming regulation on March 5th, so where are the actual experts?

Is Congress hosting a real debate over regulated online gambling or a one-sided monologue at the behest of a billionaire?

5) Where is the proof?

For my final argument I would take everything full circle and return to debunking the notion that we don’t know what would happen if online gaming were to be legalized.

Because we do.

One of the strangest arguments Adelson and company continue to make is that online gambling will be a pox on society. They phrase these scenarios as hypotheticals, even though online gambling has existed for nearly 20 years, and regulated online gambling in the U.S. is closing in on its second birthday.

“Imagine what would happen if you could gamble online from any computer or phone?,” is nothing more than scaremongering. We don’t have to imagine this scenario, it already exists.

This isn’t a theoretical debate, and we need to stop allowing them to phrase it as such.

If online gaming was going to create a spike in problem gambling or underage gambling rates wouldn’t’ we have seen some proof of this by now? Wouldn’t the “boom” period of 2003-2006 (when online gambling was readily available across the country) have created a massive spike in problem gambling rates?

There is no evidence of such a spike. See proof here and here.

Nevada’s legal online poker industry went online on April 30, 2013. Nearly two years later the sky hasn’t fallen, and there is no discernible increase in problem gambling or underage gambling rates in any legalized market.

Many European countries have regulated online gambling as well, and there is no evidence that problem gambling or underage gambling rates are on the rise in the UK, France, Italy, Spain, Portugal, or elsewhere.

So I ask RAWA supporters one final, and quite simple question: Where is your proof?

- Steve covers nearly every angle of online poker in his job as a full-time freelance poker writer. His primary focus for OPR is the developing legal and legislative picture for regulated US online poker and gambling.
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