Proposed Internet Gaming Moratorium Violates Federalism

You know a legislative idea is a dud when even Sheldon Adelson???s millions can???t get it enacted. But that appears to be the case with efforts to enact a federal ban on online gambling. 

Adelson, a casino owner and one of the richest men in the United States, has spent millions of dollars and most of the last two years trying to convince Congress that residents of Delaware, New Jersey and Nevada can handle online gambling but the rest of the nation cannot.

He pushed his allies in Congress to introduce legislation in both 2014 and 2015 that would prohibit expansion of online gambling beyond the three states that already have it. When neither bill caught fire, he opted for a Plan B ??? a proposal for a one-year moratorium on any expansion of online gambling in states so Congress can study the issue.

Leaving aside the 10th Amendment question ??? why should Congress ban online gambling when states decide for themselves whether to have horse or dog racing, casinos, lotteries or other forms of state-regulated gambling ??? this is a sham.

The issue has been studied to death. The conclusions are that online gambling is a modest job creator, that it has the potential to boost lottery sales, which often fund other public programs, and that problem gambling does not increase as a result of the presence of online gambling anyway. 

Although this is not a study in government effectively responding to a public need, it is a study in how money attempts to work its will in the political arena. 

In November 2013, Adelson said he would spend whatever it takes to enact a ban. The following January, legislation was introduced and later modified by Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., to do just that. 

Adelson helped start the Coalition to Stop Internet Gambling, in which ex-Gov. George Pataki, R-N.Y., ex-Sen. Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark., and other high-profile political types joined in calling for a ban.

The legislation was the subject of a hearing last March ??? one with all the balance of those spy trials in Iran. One witness called online gambling the ???crack cocaine??? of the industry, another blamed lotteries for all economic inequality and a third declared, against all available evidence, that online gambling could not be effectively regulated. 

Congress took the measure of these claims and sensibly moved on. So Adelson tried again, getting Chaffetz and Graham to again refine and reintroduce the legislation, now known as the Restoring America???s Wire Act. 

Congress again was not impressed, so Adelson has floated this latest idea. It???ll just be temporary, so we can gather the information we need, supporters contend. It???s an olive branch ??? the implication being the Adelson forces got close enough on this to deserve at least half a loaf. And hey, the states already successfully running such operations can keep them. 

Nonsense. Supporters attempted to attach it to the giant appropriations bill at the end of 2014 ??? known as the Cromnibus because it was a continuing resolution and an omnibus funding bill all in one. If you can???t get a provision like this into legislation like that, you have to accept Congress is not interested in your idea.

It???s a bald, bold attempt to keep states considering legalizing online gambling from doing so. It???s a half-measure its boosters hope will become permanent. It???s the camel trying to get his nose in the tent.

It???s always possible the members of  Congress pushing this legislation ??? Sen. Florida Man, R-Fla., also is involved ??? simply have not laid out their complete case. 

Maybe there is some reason citizens of Delaware, New Jersey and Nevada can survive this menace in their midst but the other 47 states cannot. Maybe it???s way worse than we know, and distraught losers are throwing themselves off bridges in New Jersey, Delaware and Nevada by the dozens. 

Maybe there is some reason lotteries, casinos and other forms of state-sanctioned gambling are OK, but this is not. Maybe there is some public health benefit to having to go out of your house to gamble. Maybe it holds down the urges to over-bet during the cold months or to succumb to the 3 a.m. gambling urge.

And maybe there is a reason the 10th Amendment shouldn???t apply when it comes to online gambling although it seems to for other forms.  

But if anyone knows those reasons, they need to come forth pretty quickly. Because all Congress has to go on now is the histrionic campaign by Adelson, his attempts to manipulate the system in his favor through campaign contributions and an issue that, save for his self-interest, would be ignored in Washington and decided where should be ??? at the state level.

His millions haven???t gotten an outright ban across the finish line, and this latest proposal is no more worthy than the previous one. Congress should continue to just say no.