Congress Introduces Ban on Online Poker, Gambling

Published April 8, 2015

A bill titled the “Restoration of America’s Wire Act,” sponsored in Congress by Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), would ban all forms of online gambling, including playing poker over the Internet.

The bill would change the U.S. Department of Justice’s official interpretation of anti-wagering laws, by rewording federal law.

“Interstate transmissions of wire communications that do not relate to a ‘sporting event or contest’ fall outside the reach of the Wire Act,” U.S. Assistant Attorney General Virginia Seitz wrote in 2011, responding to two states’ requests for interpretation of the Wire Act of 1961.

‘Restoration’ or Ban?

The Restoration of America’s Wire Act (RAWA) would expand the Wire Act’s reach to include online activities such as online poker.

Reason magazine Senior Editor Jacob Sullum says the legality of online gambling varies from state to state, and the passage of RAWA would affect many more people than just online poker players.

“This sort of paternalistic intervention should trouble anyone who has fun in ways that other people might not like, especially if he uses the Internet to pursue his pleasures,” Sullum said. “The absurdly broad reading of the Commerce Clause underlying Chaffetz’s bill, which makes anything that happens online a fitting target of congressional meddling, should trouble anyone who believes the federal government is limited to its enumerated powers.”

‘Absolutely No Reason’

Michelle Minton, a fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, says states should be allowed to regulate online gambling.

“States have proven capable of regulating online gambling within their borders, and state legislators that do not want residents to have access to online gambling are perfectly capable of passing laws and enforcing that kind of state-level ban,” Minton said. “There is absolutely no reason why the federal government should be intervening in this matter.”

Minton says banning this form of online entertainment will drive consumers into underground black markets.

“With or without a national prohibition, Americans will continue to gamble online—it’s as simple as that,” she said. “However, allowing states to license and offer online gambling to those within their borders will give people a safe place to gamble instead of going into the black market.”

State-Level Solutions

Minton says the bill removes the self-governing authority of the states instead of protecting individuals from harm.

“Supporters of RAWA claim it is necessary to protect vulnerable individuals, but all it does is strip away the protections instituted by the states offering regulated online gambling,” said Minton. “States can require licensees to implement remedies to address any of the potential harms associated with online gambling, such as underage gambling, addiction, and crime.”

‘Very Dangerous Precedent’

Minton says RAWA goes beyond previous attempts to ban online gambling and could further expand the federal government’s grasp over online commerce.

“Whereas previous federal gambling laws were careful to limit their scope to transmissions related to truly interstate gambling, RAWA considers all online gambling transmissions to be interstate,” Minton said. “This sets a very dangerous precedent whereby Congress could intervene in any form of online activity even if the commerce begins and ends in the same state where the activity is legal.

“Today it is about online gambling, but tomorrow it may be about a different online activity that a member has a moral issue with or a donor seeking protection from his or her online competition,” said Minton.

Alexa Moutevelis Coombs ([email protected]) writes from Washington, DC.

Internet Info:

Nicholas M. Wajda, “Over-Playing a Weak Hand: Why Giving Individual States a Choice Is a Better Bet for Internet Gambling in The United States,” Thomas Jefferson Law Review: