Congress shouldn't try to sneak an online gaming ban into the appropriations bill

Supporters of the Restoration of America’s Wire Act never seem to give up, even though their efforts in 2015 and 2016 essentially never got off the ground. Those who have been following the story will recall that this was the brainchild of billionaire casino magnate (and GOP megadonor) Sheldon Adelson, along with Lindsey Graham, which would ban online gaming in the United States, primarily as way for Adelson to protect the business interests of his casinos.

Having failed to garner enough support for the measure as a standalone bill, backers have been quietly trying to work it into an amendment to the upcoming appropriations bill which will be debated this fall. This recently prompted New Jersey Governor Chris Christie to make a public appeal to President Trump and the Congress to abandon the plan before it gains any traction. (Washington Post)

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a close political ally of President Donald Trump, is urging him and Congress not to ban internet gambling in the United States.

Christie, a fellow Republican, signed a bill Friday calling on Trump, a former Atlantic City casino owner, and Congress not to enact a nationwide ban on internet gambling.

In an interview last year with The Associated Press during the presidential campaign, Trump declined to take a position on internet gambling, saying “I have a lot of friends on both sides of this issue.”

Considering how heavily Atlantic City relies on casino gambling, it’s rather telling that New Jersey’s governor is coming out against it. But the fact is that even as casino revenue has been down, New Jersey is one of three states which also allows online gaming and they’ve generated significant revenue (and restored a lot of jobs) through those efforts. That’s the case being made by opponents of RAWA who don’t want to see this aspect of the online economy throttled in its crib. And yet there are still members, such as Congressman Charlie Dent of Pennsylvania, who are trying to push this amendment into the mix. (Competitive Enterprise Institute)

Rep. Charlie Dent (R-PA) is now reportedly trying to put out the lights out on this economic ray of sunshine by inserting language into one of the congressional appropriations bills to create a national prohibition on Internet gambling. And he’s doing this even as the legislature of his home state is working tirelessly to regulate the activity and where almost two thirds of voters say they want online gambling legalized.

While details about Dent’s plan are scant, the tactic sounds like a repeat of the scheme he and other members of Congress cooked up in 2016. For years, prohibitionists have fought and failed to enact a ban on state-based Internet gambling through the normal legislative process. The Restoration of America’s Wire Act (RAWA), a bill created by prominent GOP mega-donor and casino owner Sheldon Adelson, managed to get a few hearings.

We’ve heard all of these arguments before and debated them here at length. This particular flavor of government regulation is not only bad for the economy, but it’s shamelessly exclusionary since it would still allow state governments to run lotteries and engage in other revenue generating schemes. What’s worse is that it’s largely being pushed by members of the party which is ostensibly against burdensome government regulations in an embarrassing display of cronyism designed to toss a bone to a major Republican donor.

Much like regulations on alcohol, tobacco and other “sins” engaged in by Americans, if the government honestly felt that gambling was truly that toxic and a danger to its citizens they would ban it entirely, both online and in brick and mortar establishments, as well as by state governments. But that’s not the case. As far as RAWA backers go, what’s good for the goose isn’t really good for the gander provided they get something out of it. If they want to have this debate before the American people, then fine. Let’s have it. Bring RAWA back up again as its own piece of legislation and force everyone to vote on it. But sneaking it through as an amendment to a must-pass spending bill is simply wrong.