Just When You Think RAWA Is Out, It Pulls You Back In Again

Written By Jessica Welman on December 5, 2017 - Last Updated on December 21, 2021
Sen. Dianne Feinstein

Optimists probably thought casino mogul Sheldon Adelson and other staunch anti-online gambling activists threw in the towel after Pennsylvania passed online casino legislation. At the very least, you would think they opt to lay low for a while.


Instead, the opponents combined the powers of Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) to author a bipartisan letter to the Department of Justice. In the letter, the two implore the Deputy Attorney General to reverse the DOJ’s 2011 opinion on the Wire Act.

In that opinion, the DOJ stated it did not think the law could be applied to US online gambling. With that opinion opoening the door, the following states passed intrastate online gambling laws:

It was Pennsylvania’s new laws that spurred the lawmakers to action. However, given the state of gambling in the United States, it will likely fall on deaf ears.

DOJ letter warns of child endangerment, money laundering

The letter includes several of the arguments anti-online gambling lobbyists have used in the past. There are appeals to child safety, anti-terrorism efforts, and a fear the FBI will not be able to properly monitor such sites.

Here is just an excerpt of the text:

“The DOJ opinion had the practical effect of repealing legislation Congress carefully and thoughtfully enacted in 2006 to ban Internet gambling — legislation developed over seven years and crafted based on assurances from DOJ at that time that Internet gambling was barred by the Wire Act and other federal criminal laws.”

Those familiar with online gambling know this is an interesting interpretation of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA). Lawmakers slipped the legislation into a must-move bill, the 2006 Safe Ports Act, with many lawmakers oblivious to its inclusion.

In other words, not exactly thoughtful and careful. What Feinstein and Graham are referring to are the offshore, black market sites operating outside of regulated markets.

Moreover, the concerns about the FBI are also far-fetched. Currently, the states offering online gambling monitor and regulate sites at the state level. The involvment of the FBI is nonexistent. Moreover, oversight is an area where states, at least so far, have no trouble keeping on top of things.

With SCOTUS sports betting ruling, repeal seems more unlikely

Feinstein and Graham ultimately plead for a reversal of the DOJ opinion. Their hope is online gambling is handled at the Congressional level. Graham previously introduced a piece of legislation called the Restoration of the Wire Act (RAWA). The bill set to overturn the DOJ opinion and emphatically and clearly state the Wire Act applies to all forms of online gambling.

Were that law to pass, it would immediately invalidate all state-level online gaming legislation.

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court case regarding sports betting in New Jersey could result in a ruling that emphasizes states’ rights to make gambling laws over Congress.

The highest court heard oral arguments on the case Monday. There will be no ruling until the spring. However, the preliminary opinions from those in the court indicate things look up for New Jersey, not the sports leagues.

Perhaps that is why Feinstein and Graham were in such a hurry to author this Nov. 21 letter. The tides truly seem to be turning regarding the country’s mindset about gambling. And that tide is sweeping away what might be the last chance for these lawmakers to push some sort of RAWA effort through.

Photo by Rob Crandall / Shutterstock.com

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Jessica Welman

Jessica Welman has worked as a tournament reporter for the World Poker Tour, co-hosted a podcast for Poker Road, and served as the managing editor for WSOP.com. A graduate of Indiana University and USC, Welman is not only a writer but also a producer. She can be found on Twitter @jesswelman.

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