Only two months into his new role as US attorney general, and Alabama senator Jeff Sessions is reportedly gearing up for a federal assault on online gaming law.
The escalation comes only days after the true extent of Trump’s donations from anti-igaming lobbyist Sheldon Adelson were revealed, and amidst growing resistance from the nation’s governors.
Rumours began circulating mid- April when one US gaming consultant, Chris Grove, took to a column in the Huffington Post to warn of Sessions’ supposed intentions.
“The chatter on the Hill is that attorney general Jeff Sessions is considering a federal ban on stateregulated online gambling,” said Grove. “That’s despite a lack of any public support for such a ban, concerted pushback from states’ rights advocates, and overwhelming opposition from the National Governors Association.”
The NGA, a group comprising every governor for each of the 50 states, had only a week prior written to the new attorney general urging him to leave online gambling legislation in the hands of state lawmakers.
“The nation’s governors are concerned with legislative or administrative actions that would ban online internet gaming and internet lottery sales,” the governor’s’ letter reads.
“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.”
Concerns were first raised after remarks made by Sessions in his confirmation hearing this January. When asked for his views on a 2011 opinion made by his predecessor – who decided that the 1961 Wire Act was a ban on sports betting only, and not a prohibition of internet gambling – Sessions said he was “shocked” and would “revisit it.” In doing so the controversial AG would bypass the legislature in imposing a federal ban, which critics say, could not possibly have been the intention when the bill was passed in 1961, well before the advent of the internet.
Notwithstanding, the nation’s governors remain staunchly opposed: “States are best equipped to regulate and enforce online gaming,” the letter continues. “A ban drives this activity offshore to unregulated jurisdictions, out of the reach of state and federal law enforcement and with risk to consumers.”
Adding to the scare, a Federal Electoral Commission filing released the same week, showed casino billionaire and notorious anti-igaming activist Sheldon Adelson, had contributed $5m to Trump’s inauguration, on top of the $11.2m he donated to Trump’s election campaign.
Adelson is also reported to have gifted $20m to the GOP Senate Leadership Fund in September, only days before a bill was reintroduced to the senate, with the aim of “restoring” the 1961 Wire Act to also cover online gaming.
“Regardless of AG Sessions’ actual motivations, it will be difficult to see a federal ban as anything more than the fulfilment of Adelson’s wishes to eliminate a product that might compete with his land-based casino empire,” Grove wrote.
Whether Sessions is doing Adelson’s bidding through Trump is unknown, but the anti-federalist and anti-business attack is thought to be a contradictory signal for a republican president to be sending.
“[Online gambling] has to happen because many other countries are doing it and, like usual, the US is just missing out,” Trump said in 2011.
Half a dozen states are now preparing to regulate igaming in 2017. Trump’s former home, Atlantic City, has this month shown to have reversed its fortunes thanks to online revenues; cases of irresponsible gaming are next to none. And Pennsylvania is expected to generate half a billion in taxes over only five years, once their bill is passed.
“What’s worse, scholars and lawyers agree that a federal ban would be unlikely to hold up in court,” Grove adds. “That means the entire exercise would be little more than a waste of time – a waste of time that will cost real people good jobs and put cash-strapped states in a tougher spot than they already are.”