Friday, October 30, 2015

Ryan In, But Don’t Get Hoppe Up

There’s a new Speaker of the House, the 45-year-old Paul Ryan who was Mitt Romney’s vice-presidential candidate in 2012. He takes over for John Boehner who held the position for nearly five years before recently announcing his decision to step down.

Boehner made his announcement in late September, engendering a few weeks’ worth of speculation and a bit of jockeying among the Republicans over who would be the successor. For a few days in there young Jason Chaffetz of Utah was expressing his desire to be the new Speaker, but his mini-campaign didn’t gain a lot of momentum and eventually Ryan became the chosen one.

Those of us with an interest in online poker recognize Chaffetz as one of the members of Congress responsible for advancing that draconian bill misleadingly called the Restoration of America’s Wire Act (or RAWA). I say “misleadingly” because RAWA isn’t really “restoring” the 1961 federal law but rather rewriting it altogether, this time to prohibit nearly all forms of online gambling.

Chaffetz sponsored the current version of RAWA in the House (Lindsey Graham of SC sponsored it in the Senate). I’ve written about the bill some here, including after a hearing back in March where Chaffetz made an obnoxious (and brief) appearance in which he dismissed out of hand the idea that geolocation could enable a state to restrict those outside of its borders to gamble on an online site (i.e., technology that has already been shown to work reasonably well).

By sponsoring RAWA, both Graham and Chaffetz are working directly for Las Vegas Sands CEO Sheldon Adelson, the billionaire who has been campaigning against online gambling ever since his own attempts to get in the game for several years during the 2000s failed. Indeed, The Hill has said an Adelson lobbyist authored an early draft of RAWA.

But Chaffetz is out and Ryan is in. Still, that doesn’t necessarily mean good news for those who would oppose RAWA or anything else Adelson might get his big bucks behind.

That’s because earlier this week Ryan hired J. David Hoppe to be his chief of staff. In the past Hoppe has served as an adviser to various Republican congressmen while also working as a lobbyist in D.C. Also from Wisconsin, Hoppe has been friends with Ryan for more than two decades as he’s lobbied for a number of different conservative groups.

Among those Hoppe has been lobbying for lately is the Coalition to Stop Internet Gambling -- that’s right, the group launched by Adelson in early 2014. ThinkProgress reports that Hoppe has received $180,000 from the coaltion since July.

All of which is not to say RAWA necessarily has any greater chance of gaining momentum thanks to Ryan’s new position and his connection with Hoppe. But it seems safe to assume Ryan isn’t necessarily any better than Chaffetz would have been for those harboring hope for the online gambling cause, federally-speaking.

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