How BIg Of A Threat Is RAWA?

The Threat Posed By RAWA: Real, Imagined, Or Somewhere In Between?

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Since it was first unveiled, the Restoration of America’s Wire Act (RAWA) has been roundly mocked, criticized, and refuted by the poker community.

Be that as it may, RAWA has also caused the community myriad periods of anxiety, frustration, and apprehension.

RAWA is something of an enigma. The status, profile, and activity level surrounding the bill seem to rise and fall for no obvious reason, an inconsistency that has caused many to wonder if RAWA is a legitimate threat or the proverbial case of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

RAWA in 2014

After Sheldon Adelson proclaimed he was willing to spend whatever it takes to stop online gambling in November of 2013, the first version of an online gambling prohibition was floated in January of 2014.

A slightly-altered version of this early draft was later introduced in the House and Senate, by Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) respectively, where it became officially known as the Restoration of America’s Wire Act.

Concurrently, Adelson lent support to the newly-created Coalition to Stop Internet Gambling, a group comprised of high-profile names such as former Arkansas Senator Blanche Lincoln, former Denver Mayor Wellington Webb, and former New York Governor George Pataki, who made a lot of hay in web videos and op-eds touting the need for an online gambling ban.

Little to show

Despite the lobbying efforts, RAWA seemed destined to wither on the vine in Congress until late 2014.

RAWA got a lot of publicity during the lame duck session following the 2014 mid-term elections, where it was widely speculated RAWA might be attached to the trillion-dollar CRomnibus (Continuing Resolution Omnibus) spending bill. RAWA never made it into the bill, but pro-online poker lobbyists have repeatedly stressed that it was a close call.

How close was it?

Ultimately, the behind-the-scenes nature of RAWA’s movement through Congress makes it difficult to gauge how close RAWA came to becoming law.

The indications that RAWA had a legitimate shot at clearing Congress come mainly, but not exclusively, from by pro-gaming lobbyists. That raises the question of whether such assessments are self-serving, designed to gin up concern and generate more funding and support.

Meanwhile, independent analysts from Eilers to Gambling Compliance paint RAWA as more of a peripheral concern; something to keep an eye on, but nothing to lose sleep over.

RAWA in 2015

RAWA was reintroduced into the House of Representatives by Representative Chaffetz in March of 2015.

Days later, on March 25, 2015, the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security, and Investigations, hosted a hearing on Chaffetz’s bill.

Months passed with no substantive action until a new RAWA variant was introduced in the senate by Senator Graham and Senator Marco Rubio in June 2015.

Rumors of an additional hearing have yet to transition into any tangible announcements regarding such a hearing.

A multifaceted opposition

Despite the reintroduction and the hearings, RAWA isn’t exactly blazing a path through Congress, and is still faced with significant, powerful opposition from within the commercial casino industry.

There’s also the state lottery lobby. Lottery officials were livid at Chaffetz over the potential ramifications of RAWA and his apparent brush-off of said concerns. The lottery conundrum is why the Senate version of RAWA is slightly different than its House counterpart – but even those changes haven’t appeared to fully assuage the concerns of lottery officials.

Without a lottery carve-out RAWA seems DOA. In the same breath, a lottery carveout presents a whole new set of problems.

Finally, there’s the deep-rooted conservative opposition to RAWA born out of the significant states’ rights issues raised by the bill. From Ron Paul to Grover Norquist, and from the Competitive Enterprise Institute to FreedomWorks, there’s not much obvious support for a federal online gambling ban on the Republican side of the aisle outside of those already aligned with Adelson’s effort.

- 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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