he bill by Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., would restore an interpretation of federal law that prohibited Internet gambling until a 2011 opinion by the Department of Justice opened the door for states to explore making poker and casino-style games legal online.
Since then, Nevada has legalized online poker while Delaware and New Jersey have legalized a broader suite of games. The new bill does not contain a grandfather clause that would allow those to continue legally.
The legislation from Graham, who is running for president, would carry out the goals of Sheldon Adelson, the billionaire casino owner who has put big money behind a campaign against online gambling. Adelson, chairman of the Las Vegas Sands Corp., has argued that making wagers over the Internet is corrosive to society and bad business for the casino industry.
On the other hand, a coalition of conservatives and casinos who see the Internet as a new frontier for marketing and profits that could be made off ’net betting have argued that states should be given the ability to decide for themselves whether to allow residents to wager online.
The fight over online gambling has provided full employment for dozens of lobbyists retained by the major interests on both sides, as well as Native American tribes, poker players, the horse racing industry and others affected in some way or another.
Adelson did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday made through a spokesman.
But John Ashbrook, a spokesman for the Adelson-funded Coalition to Stop Internet Gambling, claimed momentum behind the campaign to ban online gambling, “and the Graham-Feinstein bill is an important part of the effort.” Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California is the lead Democratic co-sponsor.
“Predatory online gambling is ruining lives all across our country and this bill will help us stop it,” Ashbrook said. Other co-sponsors include senator and presidential candidate Marco Rubio, R-Fla.; Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah; Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H.; Sen. Dan Coats, R-Ind.; and Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C.
“It is unfortunate that Sen. Graham and Sen. Rubio and several colleagues have chosen to carry Adelson’s water in the U.S. Senate,” said Kristen Hawn, a spokeswoman for the Coalition for Consumer and Online Protection, a pro-Web gaming group funded by MGM Resorts International and Caesars Entertainment Corp.
Internet gambling advocates say banning the practice will only drive it underground, where law enforcement officials will have a difficult time rooting out predators, cheaters and potential money launderers.
Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, introduced a House version of the bill in February. It has been the subject of a House Judiciary subcommittee hearing and is awaiting committee votes.