The hearing on the Sheldon Adelson led Restoration of America's Wire Act (RAWA) was heard on Wednesday. I reluctantly decided to watch the feed and, as I feared, it turned out to be a dog and pony show dominated by representatives who wanted RAWA passed. In all fairness, I was hoping that the hearing would include stakeholders that would present well-reasoned arguments for their views and reasons why RAWA deserved to be rationally considered or rejected. I hoped to hear from the bill sponsors Jason Chaffetz and Lindsay Graham, spokespeople from the major casinos, John Pappas from the Poker Player's Alliance and state legislators from New Jersey, Nevada and Delaware that stood to lose their current online gambling licenses if RAWA received the go ahead. I also hoped to hear from Sheldon Adelson although I knew realistically that wouldn't occur. Instead we got the pleasure of hearing from Robert Goodlatte, a few anti-gambling pioneers and various state representatives with little clout such as Sheila Jackson Lee from Texas and Cedric Richmond from Louisiana. The groups with the most to lose if RAWA is passed, weren't present at all. Jason Chaffetz was there although he just reiterated what he stated when he introduced the bill in the House, nothing new.
Aside from the lack of representation on the pro-gambling side at the hearing, what was really infuriating was that no one addressed the main issue at hand; namely was the DoJ opinion from 2010 valid?
There was a lot of talk about state's rights, problem gambling and concerns that citizens will be able to use proxies and spoofs to gamble in other states but at no time was the question asked whether the DoJ was correct in their opinion that the Wire Act of 1961 was intended only for sports and contests. John Conyers, a Representative from Michigan tried to talk about the 1961 Act and why a ban wasn't the answer, but was quickly dismissed. And Michael Fagan, a board member from the organization Stop Predatory Gambling, stated that he believed the 2010 DoJ opinion was just an attempt to expand online gambling and take advantage of the vulnerable, but again in neither case did they answer the question as to whether The 1961 Wire Act was intended only for sports betting and contests and whether the DoJ was correct in their opinion. Of course there is a reason why the highly biased committee didn't address that question and that simply is because the answer is obviously "yes". Read the wording of the 1961 Act again:
"Whoever being engaged in the business of betting or wagering knowingly uses a wire communication facility for the transmission in interstate or foreign commerce of bets or wagers or information assisting in the placing of bets or wagers on any sporting event or contest, or for the transmission of a wire communication which entitles the recipient to receive money or credit as a result of bets or wagers, or for information assisting in the placing of bets or wagers, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than two years, or both."
What can possibly be more clear than that "placing of bets or wagers on any sporting event or contest..."? The Wire Act was never intended to include casinos, poker or lotteries. It was intended to stop mobsters from taking sports bets on the phone. Arguments could be made that the Wire Act didn't address those forms of gambling because they weren't possible over a wired connection in 1961 but if that is indeed the argument that the RAWA sponsors want to use, it would have been nice if someone actually made it at the hearing. Instead they thought it was more important to avoid the real issue at hand and discuss gamblers "bleeding into other states" and thus gambling illegally. I actually spoke to a lawyer who has been involved in the field for years and he said that no court would allow the leap of logic that sports betting and contests was the same as online poker or casinos which is likely the reason the pro-RAWA group never brought it up. Doing so would expose them to legal questions they weren't prepared to address at the hearing and actually discuss the wording as it appears in the Wire Act.
But having a hearing and not including the real stakeholders or addressing the real issue at hand made the hearing a farce. This would be the same as having a hearing on Obamacare but not inviting anyone from the public affected by it, any doctors or any representatives responsible for its implementation. And instead the invitation is only extended to insurance companies that stand to lose from it, a bunch of Republican politicians that oppose it and the token Democrat with no knowledge of Obamacare or insurance to make it appear non-partisan.
As the hearing ended all I could think was "that's time I'll never get back in my life." It didn't answer any of the real questions and it was very poorly organized and run. The one good thing about the hearing is that there was nothing said that would convince any Representatives that were on the fence and leaning to not passing RAWA from changing their views.
No doubt a hearing will be heard in the Senate sometime soon and hopefully the real stakeholders will show up. Unfortunately with the Republicans in control of the Senate that's not likely either.