Lame Duck Could See Attempt To Attach Online Gambling Ban To Broader Legislation

Is There A Realistic Chance Of Congress Passing An Online Gambling Ban During The Lame Duck?

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The 2016 election is now in the rearview mirror, and with an administration lacking clear policy positions about to take control, online gambling is suddenly a hot topic of conversation on political watchdog websites.

The uncertainty surrounding the Trump administration’s position (particularly the Attorney General) on online gambling has some concerned that it might push for an outright prohibition.

Others feel Trump will be pro-gambling, in which case, the lame duck would be the best shot to pass a federal online gambling ban.

No less than a half-dozen websites (see here, here, and here) have published articles during the past couple weeks raising the specter of Congress passing some version of the Restoration of America’s Wire Act. RAWA would prohibit online gambling across the country.

But just how likely is a federal online gambling prohibition passing Congress during the lame duck?

A brief history of RAWA

The RAWA is a pet project of billionaire casino magnate and Republican mega-donor Sheldon Adelson.

Adelson adopted his public anti-online gambling position in a Forbes interview from November 2013, when he announced he would “spend whatever it takes” to prohibit online gambling.

Soon thereafter, Adelson created the lobbying group, Coalition to Stop Internet Gambling He is also widely believed to be the driving force behind the RAWA bills that were introduced in 2014, 2015, and 2016.

Representative Jason Chaffetz and Senator Lindsey Graham were the key catalysts in their respective chambers.

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But why the lame duck?

Despite its deep-pocketed backer and the support of several representatives and senators during its three-year run in Congress, RAWA has been a lot of fizzle with no sizzle.

Co-sponsors have been few and far between, and the number of state attorneys general supporting such an action has been dropping like a stone:

But widespread support isn’t always needed to get something passed in Congress. And just like the UIGEA was an eleventh hour attachment to the Safe Port Act in 2006, RAWA could forge a similar path.

The one “close call” for RAWA occurred in 2014, when the bill’s supporters were trying to attach the online gambling ban to the CRomnibus, a must-pass piece of legislation during the mid-term lame duck session.

In the end, the effort failed, and the CRomnibus passed without any mention of online gambling.

How close RAWA was to being attached to the CRomnibus is debatable, but what is undeniable is RAWA stands little to no chance of passing Congress.

That is, outside of being added to a massive piece of legislation during a lame duck period, when the pace picks up in the often slow-moving halls of Congress.

Harry Reid’s parting shot

Another unknown dynamic is whether online gambling will create strange bedfellows between Republican and Democrat lawmakers.

During the 2014 lame duck, Nevada Senator Harry Reid went from ally to adversary in the online poker community when he announced he was open to the idea of a federal online gambling ban, even though he had previously indicated he was in favor of legalizing online poker.

Even though they are diametrically opposed ideologically, Reid and Adelson have a complicated relationship. Reid, a former boxer, often treats Adelson with kid gloves while saving his haymakers for the likes of the Koch Brothers and other GOP donors.

With retirement looming, the fear is Reid could make a similar push to prohibit online gambling during this lame duck session. Reid says he has no intention of pushing a federal online gambling ban, but left himself wiggle room to change his mind.


It’s unclear if there is an appetite to pass a federal online gambling ban during the lame duck. And it’s also unclear if or how the Trump administration will deal with online gambling.

What is clear is that with seven states offering legal online gambling and several others looking to join them, passage of RAWA, or a reversal of the 2011 Department of Justice Office of Legal Counsel opinion, would likely lead to a prolonged legal battle.

- 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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