NJ Calls for Trump to Reject Anti-Online Gambling Legislation
The New Jersey General Assembly passed a unanimous resolution on Wednesday calling for President Donald Trump to reject a federal online gambling ban. The vote tally was 75-0 calling for President Trump to oppose Restore America’s Wire Act. Five Assembly members did not vote.
The resolution, which was introduced by Assembly President Vincent Mazzeo (D), included a direct request asking the POTUS to reject RAWA. The resolution stated that New Jersey, “Urges United States President Trump, members of his administration, and Congress to oppose measures and actions to prohibit states from authorizing and conducting Internet gaming.”
The Purpose of Vincent Mazzeo’s Bill
When Vincent Mazzeo introduced the legislation in January 2017, he said the bill was symbolic. At the time, Mazzeo told the New Jersey media, “Resolutions of this sort (whether the legislature pass them or not) are largely symbolic. They often target the home state’s congressional delegation. By and large, these resolutions convey the feelings of the lawmakers and constituents back home, and what effect a specific piece of federal legislation would have on the area.”
This week’s vote shows the General Assembly is more united than it has been in the past on online gambling legislation. When Vincent Mazzeo introduced a similar bill 3 years ago, it never received a full vote on the Assembly floor. Mazzeo was able to steer it through the Tourism, Gaming and the Arts Committee, but it died on the floor.
What Is Restore America’s Wire Act?
While the resolution is mostly symbolic, the following passage elaborates on the damage Restore America’s Wire Act would do to the gambling industry of New Jersey. In effect, the passage gives the State of New Jersey its pretext for suing the Trump Administration in federal civil court, if ever a ban was signed into law.
In such lawsuits, the party suing must establish itself as an “injured party” and thus has standing to sue in court.
The following sentence discusses the injury signing an anti-online gambling bill into law would do to New Jersey’s casino industry: “A federal prohibition against Internet gaming would directly and negatively impact New Jersey by dismantling the investments that the State and Atlantic City casinos have already made to implement and regulate Internet gaming, taking away the economic and employment opportunities already realized by the State and its residents, and foreclosing the future potential of Internet gaming to generate tens of millions of dollars in tax revenue, create high-tech software jobs, and foster valuable business ventures for Atlantic City casinos in this State.”
New Jersey Online Gambling Laws
New Jersey was one of the first states to pass an onlien gambling bill in 2013, after a late-2011 opinion rendered by the U.S. Justice Department stated it was legal under the UIGEA for online casinos and poker sites to exist. The DoJ opinion stated that individual states could choose to legalize and regulate online gambling. Since then, Delaware, New Jersey, and Nevada passed such laws.
In November 2013, New Jersey launched its first online casino and poker websites. The rollout was slow to begin, due to issues with the geolocation technology and the lack of top operators like PokerStars. Over the three-plus years since, online gambling has flourished in New Jersey, becoming an additional million-dollar revenue stream for Atlantic City casinos.
Sheldon Adelson’s Opposition to Online Gambling
To counter the growing trend of states legalizing poker sites and online casinos, Sheldon Adelson created a political action committee named the Coalition to Stop Internet Gambling (CSIG). CSIG was designed to lobby state and federal officials, while running attack ads on politicians and groups which supported online gambling.
Sheldon Adelson was an outspoken critic of online gambling, saying it posed a special danger to problem gamblers and underage gamblers. Despite making more money off gamblers than any other person in history, Sheldon Adelson claimed he was trying to protect gamblers from predatory operators.
Failure of Anti-Online Gambling Legislation
Despite having $34 billion or so to bankroll CSIG and the political campaigns of presidential candidates who would support RAWA (Marco Rubio, Lindsey Graham), Sheldon Adelson’s Restore America’s Wire Act legislation never gained much traction in Congress. Lindsey Graham introduced RAWA in the US Senate, while Jason Chaffetz introduced the bill in the US House of Representatives.
That would have seemed to be the end of the matter, but in January 2017, Donald Trump became president. While Trump seems to be an unlikely person to ban online casinos, he was close enough to Sheldon Adelson to make him and his wife members of his Inauguration Committee. During the Republican National Convention last summer, Trump went to the Sheldon Adelson’s skybox to personally thank him for snubbing Sen. Ted Cruz.
Another concerning sign was the elevation of Sen. Jeff Sessions to become US Attorney General, because Jeff Sessions is a vocal critic of online gambling. With a memo, Jeff Sessions could reverse the 2011 Justice Department opinion on the UIGEA.
Under the circumstances, Vincent Mazzeo thought the New Jersey Assembly should go on the record with its wishes. In the months that have passed, it seems less likely that Donald Trump and the Republican-controlled Congress are going to ban New Jersey’s online gambling industry. The GOP leaders cannot agree on healthcare legislation, which makes tax reform more difficult, which makes all other legislative items problematic. Still, America’s gambling industry is living through a unpredictable time, so Mazzeo’s resolution at least sets up a legal argument, if the unthinkable should happen.
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