Online Poker Ban Gains Support in U.S. Senate

Published June 26, 2015

Despite his past support of online gaming legalization bills, U.S. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) now backs the Restoring America’s Wire Act (RAWA), a bill that aims to revise federal anti-wagering laws to include bans on online poker.

If passed, RAWA would change the U.S. Department of Justice’s official interpretation of anti-wagering laws.

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

‘Bootleggers and Baptists’

Chapman University law professor Thomas Bell argued RAWA is a front for established businesses seeking to snuff out competitors. 

“Bans on Internet gambling offer a great example of the ‘bootleggers and Baptists’ dynamic,” Bell said. “Brick-and-mortar gambling businesses don’t want more competition, and prudes don’t want more fun. They join efforts to fight Internet gambling, the monopolists typically funding the moralists to serve as the movement’s facade.”

Sharper Definitions

Instead of expanding the Wire Act’s reach to include more forms of entertainment, Bell says the federal government should make the law more focused.

“In most jurisdictions, games qualify as gambling only when luck predominates over skill in determining who wins,” Bell said. “Lotteries offer the best example. In poker, skill has a large impact on outcomes. Because poker does not fit the usual definition of gambling, lawmakers have good reason to exclude it—as well as sports betting, blackjack, and other games—from any online gambling ban.”

Hidden Agenda

Competitive Enterprise Institute Fellow Michelle Minton says RAWA’s true goal is to benefit the “bootleggers” running physical casinos.

“Sheldon Adelson, CEO of the Las Vegas Sands Corporation, declared in 2011 that he’d spend whatever it takes to stop the spread of online gambling,” Minton said. “He claimed his motivation was entirely about protecting vulnerable populations such as children and those with a gambling addiction, yet his own casinos proudly advertise mobile gambling that allows players to gamble on their phones from anywhere in Nevada.”

Harm Principle

Minton says the federal government should leave people alone and let them have fun doing activities that don’t harm others.

“My perspective is that the federal government does not have the right to tell Americans when and how they should spend their money online, so long as they aren’t harming another person,” Minton said. “This freedom shouldn’t be limited to only those activities some members of Congress deem worthy.

“Are people free if they don’t have the liberty to spend their money and time as they see fit?” asked Minton. “If a person values playing slots online more than the money, he or she will lose while doing so, and neither I nor anyone else should be able to prohibit them from engaging in that activity.”

Matt Hurley ([email protected]) writes from Cincinnati, Ohio.

Internet Info:

Dana Gale, Cardozo Journal of International and Comparative Law, “The Economic Incentive Behind the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act”: