The Restoration of America’s Wire Act (RAWA) is back, having been reintroduced to the House of Representatives on Wednesday.
The measure was introduced by Representative Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), and would have the effect of largely banning online poker and casino games throughout the United States.
The bill states that its primary goal is “to restore long-standing United States policy that the Wire Act prohibits all forms of Internet gambling.”
It would effectively roll back the December 2011 Department of Justice (DoJ) opinion that reinterpreted the 1961 Wire Act, stating that the bill was only meant to apply to sports betting, and not to other forms of remote gaming.
That reinterpretation opened the doors for states to regulate online casino games and poker, which Nevada, New Jersey, and Delaware have already taken advantage of. However, RAWA would eliminate the current legal justification for the regulation of online gambling in those states, potentially threatening the continued operation of programs in those states.
Chaffetz’s bill is the same one that was pushed by casino magnate Sheldon Adelson and his Coalition to Stop Internet Gambling (CSIG), a special interest organization dedicated to stopping the spread of Internet gambling in the United States.
RAWA picked up some supporters in the last Congressional session, and there was even speculation that Adelson may have made a deal with then-Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) to get the bill pushed through the Senate in exchange for a promise not to spend money on behalf of a future Republican opponent to Reid in his next election.
However, there was never any strong evidence of such an agreement, and the bill had a fair number of opponents among both the Republican and Democratic lawmakers.
While Reid said that he would support an online gambling ban, he denied any such alliance with Adelson, and said that he would still fight for a carve-out for online poker in RAWA should it come up again. It’s worth noting that Nevada only allows for online poker, meaning that it would remain unaffected by RAWA if it did include an exception for poker while banning other games.
That said, the bill introduced by Chaffetz does not contain any such provision to allow online poker, and Chaffetz doesn’t seem too interested in adding one to his legislation.
“There are some people who would like to see online gaming, or a poker carve out,” Chaffetz said. “My message to them is you think online gaming is good, introduce a bill and pass it.”
Chaffetz isn’t the only Republican lawmaker to talk about online gambling in the past week, however.
In a discussion on sports betting during an ESPN podcast last week, Senator John McCain (R-Arizona) also touched on the subject of online gambling, saying that while he welcomed expanded sports betting, he was against taking bets online.
“One of the problems I see with Internet gaming is the ability to distort the playing field so it can be harmful to individuals and lead to corruption in the sport,” McCain said.
It’s unclear just how much of a chance RAWA has of being passed into law in any form.
Adelson has plenty of influence in the GOP, and the Republicans now have majorities in both houses. However, online poker is far from a sharply partisan issue: there are many Republicans who have come out in favor of online gambling (particularly in the more libertarian wing of the party), and Democrats are similarly divided on the issue.
That divide may cause Congressional Republican leadership to shy away from the legislation, given its relatively low profile and potential to cause fights within its own party.