[toc]A recent letter to President-elect Donald Trump, Vice President-elect Mike Pence and the entire transition team should have poker enthusiasts concerned about online poker’s future.
The letter is signed by ten states’ attorneys general and calls for a restoration of the Wire Act which emphatically outlaws all forms of online gambling.
One of the signatures on the letter belongs to Adam Laxalt, the attorney general for the state of Nevada. This is particularly interesting when you consider Nevada, along with Delaware and New Jersey, is currently one of the three states to offer regulated online poker.
The letter was authored on Nov. 17 and includes Laxalt’s signature as well as the attorneys general from Louisiana, Michigan, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas and Utah.
What does the letter say?
The letter begins by recalling the Department of Justice opinion issued in 2011 which suggests 1961’s Federal Wire Act only applied to sports betting, not other forms of wagering.
The letter describes the decision as done “in the dark of night on Christmas 2011.”
The description of the decision as a rogue one done when people were not looking strikes quite a chord with online poker supporters who often describe the inclusion of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA) into the Safe Port Act of 2006 in similar terms.
The group goes on to mention money laundering for terrorism, underage gambling, problem gambling, hacking, fraud, identity theft, and slave labor as just some of the issues that arise when online gambling is allowed in the United States.
The letter concludes by imploring the president-elect and his team to help get a bill clarifying the Wire Act to include all forms of gambling through Congress and passed into law.
What the letter got wrong about online gambling
The biggest issue with this group’s depiction of online gambling is a lack of distinction between the regulated online gaming in the United States and unregulated sites operating offshore.
In the three states where online poker is legal, the local gaming commissions have strict regulations. Most sites require a Social Security Number in order to verify a person’s age before allowing them to open an account.
WSOP.com’s Head of Poker Bill Rini explained some of the measures the site takes to ensure no one who is not supposed to play is playing:
“We are required to collect certain identifying information before wagering is permitted which we then match to public databases to determine with a high degree of confidence that the person is who they say they are. And this goes beyond simply verifying if the person is of legal age.
We are able to check against state responsible gaming lists, if the person has asked to be self-excluded from gaming, and our own list of prohibited persons.”
Finally it is important to note the DOJ opinion did not change any current laws. It is an opinion on how the government should be interpreting the Wire Act, but it does not change or alter any existing laws on the books.
Each of the states that offers online gambling passed measures to allow intrastate online gambling. None started offering online gambling directly as a result of the DOJ opinion.
The opinion certainly had influence on how online gambling is viewed. That influence is only indirectly related to these state gambling decisions, though.
Why would Nevada oppose online gaming?
Most of the state AGs listed in the letter are not surprising. Many of the states on the list do not offer non-native casinos within their borders. One state that does raise some eyebrows is Nevada.
Laxalt’s presence on this list is not entirely unsurprising. Several Nevada Republicans, including Senator Harry Reid, have backed anti-online gaming legislation. Many received hefty donations from one of online gaming’s most outspoken critics, Las Vegas Sands Corporation CEO Sheldon Adelson.
Many might remember Adelson helped to spearhead the Restoration of the Wire Act (RAWA) legislation sponsored by Senator Lindsey Graham as well as Representative Jason Chaffetz.
Neither attempts to pass the bill gained much traction. The letter to Pence and Trump is advocating for effectively the same type of legislation.
Laxalt has previously said he supports initiatives like RAWA and is on the record as generally opposed to online gaming. At the time, Laxalt’s comments resulted in a swift rebuke from Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval.
“I am very concerned that anyone representing the state’s legal interests would speak out against current state law in our leading industry,” Sandoval said. “At its core, this is a state’s rights issue and I disagree with the Attorney General that a federal government one-size-fits-all solution is in the best interest of Nevada.”
The letter is the latest in a series of actions indicating anti-online gaming supporters are hoping the new president and Republican Congress will listen to their concerns.
Rumors had already been circling that politicians who received financial contributions from Adelson would attempt to attach an act like RAWA to the upcoming must-pass spending stopgap bill. The stopgap bill will need to pass by Dec. 9.
Meanwhile the lobbying organization the Poker Players’ Alliance (PPA) is taking to social media to encourage online poker supporters to reach out to their local politicians regarding the letter and express their concerns.
The PPA’s Vice President of Player Relations Rich Muny warns poker players to take these actions seriously. The organization offers a pre-written letter people can send to politicians voicing their concerns.