This is a response to the op-ed from earlier this week by NJOG Contributor Marty Derbyshire, who suggested that the Trump Administration does not appear to be prioritizing a ban on legal internet gambling.
About 6 weeks out from the 2016 Presidential Election, I was attending a panel at the Global Gaming Expo (G2E) entitled “Gathering Storm: Future of iGaming in the U.S.,” when the speaker asked for a show of hands:
Who in the audience thinks the election of Donald Trump would be good for online gambling in the United States?
A number of hands went up. The moderator asked if anyone wanted to elaborate, and a few did, with justifications mostly centered around the idea that Trump is part of the casino industry and thereby would support gambling expansion in general.
Now, most of us following the election knew Trump was more than a little bit of a wild card. Who knows what he’s going to do, about anything? But the Republican Party, particularly at the federal level, has not been friendly to online poker over the last decade or more.
Adelson Throws His Weight Around
Over the last decade, the most visible opponent of regulated US online poker has been Las Vegas Sands CEO Sheldon Adelson, who donated more than $82 million to Republicans in the 2016 election cycle alone.
Adelson, who leaned toward Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz in last year’s election, wasn’t initially a fan of candidate Trump. But after the brash billionaire prevailed in the GOP primary, Adelson and his wife, Miriam, quickly fell in line, donating $21.2 million to the Trump campaign.
What’s more, the couple contributed $5 million alone to the inaugural festivities, a sum which bought them prime seats on the dais during the ceremony. The New York Times reported that Adelson was pushing the administration to ban online poker.
Adelson’s unprecedented influence with our new president should send a shudder to the online poker community. The tycoon has vowed to spend “whatever it takes” to put a stop to the industry and is seemingly in position to get what he wants.
Online Poker, a Constant GOP Target
When the UIGEA passed the House of Representatives in 2006, its primary two sponsors were Republicans Jim Leach and Bob Goodlatte. The Senator who ultimately attached the bill to the must-pass SAFE Port Act was Republican Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist.
More recently, as states have begun to license and regulate online poker, several members of Congress have tried to pass an Adelson-backed law called the Restoration of America’s Wire Act (RAWA). The legislation would effectively take us back to prohibition.
Republicans Jason Chaffetz and Lindsay Graham have been leading the RAWA effort, and of the 26 co-sponsors in the 2015-2016 House of Representatives, only 3 were Democrats.
Sessions is Cause for Concern
Donald Trump isn’t exactly a traditional Republican. He has quite a history in the New Jersey casino industry and is well-known for indulging in vices that clash with the party’s Christian, family-oriented image. But Trump has brought in a number of more traditional Republican politicians who are clear online poker opponents.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions is one such character, and is in a unique position to do tremendous harm to the industry. Sessions is well-known for his anti-gambling stance, and as head of the Department of Justice could potentially overturn or cast a shadow over the 2011 legal ruling that opened up the possibility of legalizing online gambling in the US.
Recently, there have been rumors (paywall) that Sessions is considering doing just that. Doing so would put the three states that have legalized online poker in a precarious position, and would dissuade other states from doing the same.
It’s Not Time to Relax
With Sessions heading up the DOJ and Trump in the White House, there likely won’t be any time when US online poker players, online casino employees and industry stakeholders can relax and assume the business will continue to move forward unimpeded by the federal government.
The Trump Administration has already, in only a few months, demonstrated on numerous occasions that their priorities can change on a dime. Their agenda remains unclear on all but a handful of issues, and curbing online gambling has so far appeared to be a target, if not a priority.