Senators Rubio, Graham Propose Online Poker Ban

Published July 27, 2015

U.S. Senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Marco Rubio (R-FL) are introducing the Senate’s version of the Restoring America’s Wire Act (RAWA) bill, which would make online poker and gambling a federal crime.

In February, RAWA was introduced in the House by Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT).

RAWA would overrule the U.S. Department of Justice’s official interpretation of anti-wagering laws by rewording federal law and expanding the Wire Act of 1961’s scope to include online poker.

Michelle Minton, a consumer policy fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, says the bill’s sponsors are curtailing economic freedoms.

Bootleggers and Baptists

“I think this is an example of the ‘bootleggers and Baptists’ coalition at work,” said Minton. “[Politicians] can look like they are doing something for the public good while [they really are doing] a favor for politically connected donors. I think that’s worse than it just being the heavy hand of government … [They say they] are doing something for the good of the people when they are really hiding it, wrapping it up in all this other stuff[, such as] protection from terrorism and states’ rights.”

Christine Hurt, a law professor at Brigham Young University, says RAWA expands another restriction on Americans’ economic freedoms, the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006 (UIGEA).

“The UIGEA, which was passed in the mid-2000s, says it’s illegal to conduct unlawful Internet gambling, which carves out intrastate gambling, lottos, and horse track racing,” Hurt said.

UIGEA specifically exempts intrastate gambling and state lotteries, and does not address horse track racing.

“So now we have three states in the country that have intrastate online gambling: New Jersey, Delaware, and Nevada,” said Hurt. “The new Rubio bill would make all that illegal overnight.”

Raising Trade Barriers  

Hurt says anti-gambling laws such as UIGEA have historically been used to restrict international trade.

“With the passage of UIGEA and some prosecutions that have gone on before and after, the United States has been found in violation of … the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade,” Hurt said. “Under the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, you are not supposed to ban trade with other parties to [the agreement].

“In the early 2000s, Antigua said, ‘Hey, if the United States is banning gambling that is originating in Antigua, they are in violation of [the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade],'” said Hurt. “[And the United States] in reply said, ‘Well, we are sort of violating [the agreement,] but it’s okay because there is a ‘special morals’ clause, and we can deny services that we think have an immoral affect.’

“The United States has a reputation problem now … because it is in violation [of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade] for apparently economic protectionist reasons,” Hurt said.

Jen Kuznicki ([email protected]) writes from Hawks, Michigan.  

Internet Info

Rebecca Bolin and I. Nelson Rose, “Game On for Internet Gambling: With Federal Approval, States Line Up to Place Their Bets,” Connecticut Law Review: