he Restoration of America’s Wire Act, which would make online gaming illegal nationwide, was introduced in the Senate last week by Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who has pushed similar legislation before.
This time, however, the bill includes a bigger name among its co-sponsors: Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla. Rubio and Graham are contenders for the Republican Party’s presidential nomination, but Rubio’s political star power — as reflected by his poll numbers— is much higher.
Support for the legislation also makes Rubio and Graham top champions for a cause close to the heart of Las Vegas Sands CEO Sheldon Adelson, the wealthy Republican megadonor who once said he’d “spend whatever it takes” to rid the United States of online gaming.
Rubio has been a critic of gambling expansion since his days as a state legislator in Florida, and he’s sought Adelson’s support as the 2016 race heats up. That work appears to be paying off: Politico said in April that Rubio was “the clear front-runner” for Adelson’s backing.
Yet Rubio denied that Adelson was the reason why he co-sponsored the anti-online gaming bill.
“People buy into my agenda. I don’t buy into theirs,” he said after a town hall in New Hampshire, according to the Washington Post. “When I run for office, I tell people where I stand. … My stands are not influenced by my contributors; I hope my stands influence my contributors.”
David Damore, an associate professor of political science at UNLV, said there will certainly be a perception that Rubio had Adelson in mind when he signed onto the legislation. But Damore pointed out that there are other issues important to Adelson — such as staunch support for Israel — that could theoretically compel him to throw his weight behind someone else.
“Bottom line is it certainly does not hurt Rubio’s chances of getting in Adelson’s good graces, but online gaming is not the only issue that drives Adelson's political participation,” Damore said in an email.
Rubio and Graham have provided moral justifications for their opposition to online gaming. Rubio said it hurts the poor, and Graham worried in a statement about “virtually any cellphone or computer” in his state becoming a device for gambling.
John Pappas, executive director of the pro-online gaming Poker Players Alliance, isn’t convinced.
“They may have some deep moral beliefs about gaming that help guide them, but I think they are seeking the support and endorsement of a major political donor,” Pappas said in reference to Adelson.
In any case, Rubio’s name has attracted fresh attention to the latest congressional effort to outlaw online gaming. He and Graham aren’t the only ones with an appetite for a ban, either.
Sen. Harry Reid said months ago that the Senate should seriously consider anti-online gaming legislation if it were to come up again. More recently, Reid said he would consider supporting a ban even if it did not exempt Internet poker, which is the only form of online gaming legal in Nevada.
Graham’s bill does not spare Nevada or the other two states — New Jersey and Delaware — that have launched regulated online gaming industries in recent years. Neither does related legislation introduced in the House of Representatives earlier this year by Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah.
Despite Rubio’s active support and favorable signals from Reid, Pappas thinks there are plenty of reasons to believe that an online gaming ban won’t pass Congress. For one thing, he felt that enthusiasm for the House bill was “next to nothing” during a hearing on that legislation in March.
Additionally, the online gaming industry has shown it can succeed, Pappas said.
“It may not be raking in the money for states like Nevada or Delaware, but from a regulatory standpoint, it’s been a huge success,” he said. “The parade of horribles that were promised if people let states license and regulate online gaming hasn’t come to pass.”
The Online Poker Report, an industry website that monitors the regulated Internet poker industry, spelled out severalother obstacles after Graham introduced his bill. Those include previously expressed opposition from influential conservative groups, as well as the fact that an election year makes “a controversial bill dealing with gambling, the Internet and states’ rights” unlikely to come to a vote,” publisher Chris Grove said.
“General congressional inertia and the lack of broad political interest in the issue of online gambling also provide a strong argument that (the legislation to ban online gaming) never makes it to a vote, let alone becomes law,” he said.
Meanwhile, political efforts favorable to online gaming continue to move forward in other areas. Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, recently revived his pro-online poker legislation in Congress. And lawmakers in Pennsylvania and California have discussed launching an online gaming industry within their borders.