The AGs asked Pence to consider rolling back a 2011 Department of Justice opinion that determined the 1961 Wire Act only applied to sports betting and not to other forms of online gambling. There have been numerous attempts to pass a law — the Restoration of America’s Wire Act (RAWA) — in Congress, with little success to date.
That letter was signed by Nevada AG Adam Laxalt, which annoyed government officials in the state, including Governor Brian Sandoval.
Nevada has online poker and recently started expanding into other online gambling offerings, so Laxalt’s signature on the letter is counter-intuitive, on its face. Laxalt, however has supported an online gambling ban favored by Las Vegas Sands CEO Sheldon Adelson in the past.
She questioned the claims of the AG letter, saying it “contains several inaccuracies and unfair allegations.” She attempted to draw a bright line between legal and regulated online gambling in Nevada, New Jersey and Delaware and the illegal online gambling market that persists in the US:
“Furthermore, throughout the letter, there is no distinction made between legal online gaming and illegal operations. In states where online gaming is legal and regulated, there are extensive consumer protections in place that are enforced by state law enforcement authorities.”
She notes that regulations in Nevada prevent underage gambling:
“In Nevada, where there are effective controls in place to verify age and location, there has not been a single reported instance of minors playing poker online.”
She also pleaded for the Trump administration to stay out of what she views as a “states’ rights” issue.
With Republicans about to be in control of both the White House and Congress, Adelson likely sees an opportunity to push his online gambling agenda forward.
That could be a two-pronged attack: one via a new RAWA-like bill, the other via a DOJ opinion as prescribed by the ten AGs.
Even with Republicans in charge of Congress, however, RAWA has picked up little steam. Proponents suffered through a largely embarrassing hearing in the House this time last year.
So a Congressional tack still faces issues, and the Titus letter shows there will be opposition in Congress.
But changing the DOJ opinion on the Wire Act is equally problematic. The Trump administration has far more pressing issues to deal with. And such an amended opinion is also likely to end up in the courts, with the states with legal online gambling filing suit.
Still, the push for a federal online gambling appears to be alive and kicking. But clearly proponents like Titus — and likely from the NJ and Delaware Congressional contingents — are going to remain vigilant.