Rep. Dent Tries Again to Sneak Online Gambling Ban Through Congress

For the last four years, three states have had legal online gambling: Delaware, Nevada, and New Jersey. In that time, we’ve seen no negative results, despite doomsday predictions that allowing states to legalize and regulate Internet betting would “open the floodgates,” allowing anyone in the U.S., regardless of their age, to gamble, become addicted, and ruin their lives.

In reality, however, online gambling in the states has been an unmitigated success: generating hundreds of millions in new tax revenue, thousands of jobs, and saving other flailing industries. In New Jersey, for example, the launch of online betting has been an unmitigated success. Prior to 2013, Atlantic City was in economic freefall with casinos closing (and putting people out of work) in droves. Since then, however, the city has posted its first revenue increase in more than a decade, thanks to the $20 million in tax revenue online gambling generates for the state every month. Since its launch in 2013, the new industry has generated around $125 million in new tax revenue for New Jersey 3,374 new jobs, and $219 million in wages to employees. Furthermore, the license-holders contributed over $1 million in funds for compulsive and problem gambling research and treatment.

Yet, 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.

Legislative déjà vu

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. However, the idea of a federal prohibition against the will of the states runs contrary to the core conservative principle of federalism and the blatant influence of industry money resulted in backlash from both sides of aisle.

If at first you don’t succeed, cram it down their throats

Failing to obtain Congressional support on its merits, RAWA supporters switched gears, instead hoping to quietly sneak an Internet gambling ban into law by attaching RAWA language as a rider to one of the spending bills in 2016. They’ve also been trying to push Attorney General Jeff Sessions into creating a ban via administrative fiat.

As with RAWA, these attempts faced significant opposition from center-right groups (including CEI) who see them as gross violations of legislative procedure, a threat to foundational constitutional principles, and harmful to both consumers and the economy. 

Undeterred, the anti-gambling cabal is reportedly taking another stab at cramming an online gambling ban down Americans’ throats by slipping it into the massive 1,000+ page spending bill that Congress must pass before the end of September.

They are nothing if not persistent.

But, so are we. All Americans, regardless of political affiliation or their opinion on gambling, should resist attempts like this to bypass the democratic process and take away states’ constitutional right to decide for themselves how to regulate commerce within their borders, all in service of one special interest.