Chaffetz Reintroduces Bill Aimed at Making Online Poker Illegal Nationwide

american-gavelThe Restoration of America’s Wire Act died a slow death during the Lame Duck session of Congress in 2014. Upon its death, many in the poker industry warned that it would return in 2015. It look just over a month, but the latest version of RAWA has been officially filed. The Las Vegas Review Journal reported on Wednesday that Utah Republican Representative Jason Chaffetz filed the new version of Rawa, a bill nearly identical to the one filed in 2014.

As some of you may know, Utah is the only state in the union that has officially opted out of any federal online poker legislation. Back in 2012, state lawmakers took swift action in response to the December 2011 DOJ memo on the Wire Act and pushed a bill through chambers that effectively banned online gambling in the state. Two years later, Chaffetz co-championed a bill with Senator Lindsay Graham to ban most online gambling nationwide. It failed, but Chaffetz will take a second crack at it this year.

Bill Would Make Most Forms of iGaming Illegal – Even in States That Have Passed It

At its core, the Restoration of America’s Wire Act would rewrite the law to officially ban the majority of online gambling in the United States. Prior to December 2011, many lawmakers took the stance that the Federal Wire Act of 1961 applied to all online gambling, including online poker. However, the December 2011 DOJ memo clarified that the law only applied to sports betting and that opened the doors for states to consider online gambling.

Since December 2011, only Nevada, New Jersey and Delaware have legalized one form of online gambling or another. However, other states such as Iowa, Illinois, Washington, Mississippi, Pennsylvania, New York and California have all debated the issue. However, if RAWA is passed then online gambling would effectively be illegal nationwide.

The worst part of the bill is that it fails to make a carve out for states that have already legalized the activity. What this means is that upon passes, the online gambling industries in Nevada, New Jersey and Delaware would have to shut down. The same would be true for California or any other state that decides to legalize the game in 2015.

Horse Racing and Fantasy Sports Exempted – But Not Online Lotteries

At present, the only applicable exemptions from RAWA are online horse racing and fantasy sports. There is a clause in the bill that prevents it from interfering with the Interstate Horseracing Act of 1978 and certain other laws that were enacted prior to the passage of RAWA. This is an interesting exclusion considering that it considers laws passed at the federal level prior to RAWA but will not consider state rights.

Another interesting point in the bill is that RAWA would also ban online lottery sales. Currently, online lottery sales are legal in some states such as Georgia, Michigan and Illinois. Delaware iGaming is actually an extension of the state lottery. RAWA would allow for in-person online lottery sales generated by a computer, but not online sales.

Does the Bill Have a Chance of Passing?

Most poker political experts seem to be in agreement that RAWA has little chance of coming to an actual vote, much less actually passing. Several factors are contributing to what seems to be a general lack of interest on the part of lawmakers.

First, the Sheldon Adelson connection is beginning to become dicey for many lawmakers. Some feel that the bill is too blatant a move to appease the Billionaire and justify his campaign contributions. Next, there is tremendous opposition to the bill by numerous groups including state lottery directors and several conservative groups.

Lastly, this bill deals with many issues that could be political poison in the upcoming election year. RAWA deals with gambling and state rights, both issues that could negatively impact the chances for reelection by some lawmakers, especially conservative lawmakers.

In the end, we will likely see a lot of debate on this issue and perhaps even hearings on the matter. However, in the end this is a matter that may prove too volatile to come to a vote in 2015.


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