Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Railbirding RAWA

A few months after I started this blog -- more than eight-and-a-half years ago, if you can believe that -- the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006 was passed into law. Suddenly I found myself writing about a host of other topics besides simply playing poker, among them legal matters affecting my ability to play the game online.

As we’ve been reminding each other over and over again since the UIGEA was passed -- kind of like repeatedly relieving a bad beat -- that bill was snuck onto another one in the dead of night just before that Congress adjourned for the final push of campaigning prior to the ’06 elections. Thus did it become law without going through what many would rate a legitimate process of thoughtful debate and decision-making -- that is to say, via a process other than one in which our elected representatives would appear unequivocally to be representing the wishes of those who voted them into office (not that such an ideal is so often realized).

From there followed several years of mixing in posts in which I’d write about various legal developments that followed the UIGEA, including the long, drawn-out process of the regulations getting finalized by late 2008, as well as the many rival federal bills introduced by Barney Frank and others hoping to legalize and regulate online gambling in the U.S.

Then came Black Friday, which I might call a game-changer but in truth more or less stopped the game altogether, at least for most online poker players in the U.S. Before then, though, I remember somewhere along the way finding an analogy between poker and legal machinations surrounding the online game, the parallel having to do with both involving a combination of luck and skill.

That’s a generalization, but the point was that when it came to legislation regarding online poker, the process was in some respects controlled by the “players” (i.e., legislators, judges, lobbying groups, plaintiffs and defendants and those representing them, and so on) and also -- seemingly -- by what often appeared “chance” elements insofar as the combination of individuals and circumstances would result in lots of unpredictable outcomes.

Some “players” in the legislative game -- like in poker -- have a lot more influence than others, with money often making the difference in both contexts. Such is what we’ve been seeing happening over the last couple of years with Sheldon Adelson’s ongoing efforts to curb online gambling of all kinds. The CEO of Las Vegas Sands (parent company of the Venetian Macao Limited) is purportedly the 10th richest person in the world (as of this past summer), thus it hasn’t been difficult at all for him to toss chips various legislators’ way in order to lean on them to play his way.

The most recent orbit of this game has involved Adelson backing this new Restoration of America’s Wire Act (RAWA) first introduced in both houses back in March of this year. This federal law would rewrite the Federal Wire Act of 1961 (which the DOJ opined in late 2011 only applied to sports betting) to prohibit most forms of online gambling in the U.S., including making current state-regulated online gambling (in Nevada, New Jersey, and Delaware) illegal. (Horse racing and fantasy sports would still get a pass.)

RAWA has gotten some co-sponsors but not huge traction this year, but during this “lame duck” session some surmised it could be tossed into this huge $1.1 trillion omnibus spending bill, with a lot of talk about how the Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (NV) was being goaded by Adelson (and his money) into sneaking it in there in UIGEA-like fashion. You’ll recall how during an earlier lame duck session (in 2010), Reid was introducing a federal bill to license and regulate online poker while curbing other forms of online gambling. Well, now he apparently is sitting behind someone else’s stack.

During the day yesterday I noticed Rich Muny, Vice President of Player Relations for the Poker Players Alliance, noting how on his most recent webcast a former member of the House, Jon Porter, said it was “50-50” the RAWA would get added to the spending bill. The bill finally dropped last night without RAWA, and as one commentator in a Two Plus Two thread about the situation noted, “we went from about a 50% chance of being safe, to about... 85%.”

Again, just following the story makes it hard not to think of poker analogies. In this latest hand, those not wanting to see a federal bill outlawing online gambling across the U.S. were all in preflop with Q-Q versus an opponent’s A-K-suited, and now have faded both the flop and turn to have a big edge with one card to come.

The problem with those analogies, though, is that most who oppose RAWA aren’t even sitting at the table, never mind making decisions about pushing their stack in behind a premium hand. They’re on the rail, watching others with big stacks keep buying back in and playing the game on their own.

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