Where Does Sen. Grassley Stand on Online Gambling?

Recent polls show that Iowans aren’t too keen on legalizing online gambling in their state. They’re mistaken, in my view, but that’s their prerogative. And Iowans’ choices don’t affect me, given that I don’t live in the state. But a bill currently in the Senate Judiciary Committee could change that, by centralizing decisions on gambling in Washington.

The Restoration of America’s Wire Act (RAWA S. 1168) would amend the 1961 Federal Wire Act, a bill passed long before the Internet existed that was intended to target the mafia’s sports betting racket, would impose a national prohibition on states legalizing almost all forms of online gambling—even for those states that have already done so. This Saturday, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), who has not yet taken a public stance on RAWA, will hold three town hall meetings in southeastern Iowa, giving him an opportunity to make his position clear. Iowan opponents of RAWA should make their positions clear as well.

Supporters of the bill claim it is necessary to safeguard children, to shield those with gambling addiction, and to prevent crime. But a national prohibition wouldn’t do anything to accomplish these goals. On the contrary, it would nullify the protections instituted in states like New Jersey, Delaware, and Nevada that already legalized online gambling and would push players back into the black market where they have no protections.

The most audacious claim of RAWA supporters is that it protects states’ rights. Because the Internet knows no state lines, they argue, there is no way to protect those states that don’t want online gambling available to its citizens. But there already exist robust technologies and regulatory schemes to prevent the very things RAWA supporters worry about, and they are already in use in other countries that have some form of legal and regulated online gambling.

Closer to home, three states that have offered casino-style gambling online for more than two years without incident. Can Iowans access those sites right now? No, because those states require multi-level technological confirmation on location, using such technologies such as IP addresses, Wi-Fi triangulation, GSM and cell tower triangulation and GPS data.

Another worrisome aspect about this bill is that defines all online commerce as interstate commerce. Even if when the data start and end in the same state, under RAWA it would be considered interstate because it may have gone through a server outside the state at some point during traffic. So, this could affect not just gambling, but all online commerce. Do Iowans want lawmakers from Utah or South Carolina telling them what kinds of online activity should be legal in their state?

The federalism issue aside, a ban would do literally nothing to protect Iowans from the negative aspects of online gambling. By preventing states from legalizing and regulating online gambling, it would push online gaming back into the black market, as happened here in the U.S. and other countries that have not legalized the activity. How exactly are we supposed to stop Americans from gambling on any of the thousands of gambling sites operating illegally offshore if we supposedly can’t stop interstate online gambling?

Finally, there’s the not inconsequential problem that this bill was written by a lobbyist for Sheldon Adelson, a GOP “mega-donor” who happens to have a financial stake in preventing online gambling from competing with his real-world casinos.

This Saturday, Iowans have an opportunity to ask Sen. Grassley to assert his commitment to the principle of state sovereignty and individual rights. If he is serious about upholding these values, he should not support a law that favors a well-connected GOP donor at the expense of ordinary Americans.

Details about the town hall meetings this Saturday, July 25:

8-9 a.m.
Calhoun County Town Meeting
Rockwell City Community Center
Room A
424 Main St.
Rockwell City

10-11 a.m.
Carroll County Town Meeting
Carroll County Courthouse
Meeting Room
114 East 6th St.

12:15-1:15 p.m.
Sac County Town Meeting
Law Enforcement Center
100 Northwest State St.
Sac City