For over three years, a small group of conservative pundits and organizations have been leading a lonely fight against Las Vegas billionaire Sheldon Adelson’s campaign to outlaw state regulated online gaming. This week, reinforcements, thankfully, rode into town.
It wasn’t long after New Jersey and a handful of other states voted to allow citizens within their borders to participate in legalized, and regulated, online gaming. Soon after, other states, like Georgia and Illinois, decided to sell lottery tickets – again only to their own citizens. Nearly a dozen states have legalized either online gambling or internet lottery tickets and others like Pennsylvania and Michigan seem poised to join the party.
Adelson, the owner of the brick and mortar Sands Casino hotel empire, sees online gambling as a threat to his business. He turned to Washington to do his dirty work and some elected officials were more than eager to get dirty. Soon after Adelson announced his campaign to overturn these state laws through federal fiat, Sen. Lindsey Graham introduced legislation on Adelson’s behalf. Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) decided to carry Adelson’s water in the House.
Many members of Congress, fearing the wrath of one of the bigger donors to the GOP, refused to speak up despite the obvious problems with the bill. First, the legislation is a clear violation of the Tenth Amendment. Second, the legislation clearly constitutes a form of crony capitalism. In addition, some fear the bill would open the door to regulation of the internet.
Conservative groups were willing to slay the dragon. The Competitive Enterprise Institute’s Michelle Minton did yeoman’s work documenting the history of the law and detailing why states should be willing to deal with gambling laws on their own. Other groups like the Liberty Alliance, the Center for Freedom and Prosperity, and the American Taxpayers Union also vocally opposed the bill.
Despite conservative opposition, Chaffetz tried to move the bill with a hearing stacked in favor of the Adelson proposal. That’s where things began to go off the rails. Then Rep. Mick Mulvaney , (R-S.C.) President Trump’s current budget director, asked pointed questions about the impact on the legislation shredding holes in the witnesses’ arguments. Others, including gambling opponent Rep. Jody Hice (R-Ga.) pointed out how the legislation would harm his home state.
With the bill languishing in Congress, there is concern that Attorney General Jeff Sessions might weigh in against the rights of states. To mitigate that possibility this week, real firepower entered the fray. In a letter to Sessions, the head of the National Governor’s Association, Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval and Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe laid out their opposition to “legislative or administrative actions that would ban online Internet gaming and Internet lottery sales.”
The political opposites correctly point out:
The regulation of gaming has historically been addressed by the states. While individual governors have different views about offering gaming—in a variety of forms—within their own states, we agree that decisions at the federal level that affect state regulatory authority should not be made unilaterally without state input. A strong, cooperative relationship between the states and federal government is vital to best serve the interests of all citizens.
Congress and the White House should recognize that the issue of gaming is best dealt with the way the Framers of the Constitution would envision – on the state level. There is no need for federal intervention either administratively or legislatively, as the governors so eloquently point out.