Ten Bold Political Moves, Part 2

What events shaped iGaming in North America, and what was the impact of each?

Last month, we presented Part 1 of the 10 Bold Political Moves. Inspired by Las Vegas Sands CEO Sheldon Adelson’s war on internet gambling that has sent shockwaves through Nevada, Delaware, New Jersey and everywhere else looking into regulating the industry, these 10 events demonstrate that anything can happen in Washington, D.C.

This is Congress’ second go at the Adelson-backed federal Restoration of America’s Wire Act, and it looks like business as usual. While we might be surprised by the aggressiveness of the rejuvenated prohibition movement, let’s not forget that internet gambling has been a victim of this kind of backroom politics before. So without further ado, here’s the final five bold iGaming policy moves taken since internet gambling emerged in the mid ’90s.

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie
5. Where No Man Dared to Go

Sometimes it seems as though New Jersey Governor Chris Christie never does anything that isn’t bold. Christie has remained true to form with his efforts to legalize sports betting in New Jersey. The concept isn’t as edgy today as it was perhaps five years ago, but when Christie began the campaign for legalized sports betting, such an idea was unheard of. The pet project was written off by many as a pipe dream, but the legalization movement doesn’t seem to be going away, and no longer sounds all that farfetched.

Former Tennessee Senator Bill Frist
4. Fristing the Night Away (Version 2)

Considering how quickly and efficiently a measure authorizing internet gambling passed through the Council of the District of Columbia, one might have been compelled to wonder whether it was just a bit too easy. It was. The measure was added to the district’s lottery contract months after the contract passed a council vote and was ultimately approved in 2010—in a vote taking place at 2 a.m.—as a late addition to a spending bill. Weeks later the stunned council—many of whom didn’t know they had legalized online gambling—repealed the measure.

3. When All Else Fails, Pick up Your Ball and Go Home

The U.S. Department of Justice’s late ’90s crackdown on internet gambling crushed what was a thriving iGaming hub in Antigua and Barbuda. The island nation responded by filing a complaint with the World Trade Organization, essentially claiming that the restrictive U.S. policy was a restraint on trade and a violation of the United States’ commitments under the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS). In 2003, the WTO appellate body handed down a ruling favorable to Antigua and ordered the United States to bring its domestic policies into compliance with its GATS commitments. But, with no path to any desirable outcome, the United States simply chose to ignore the ruling. To date, it has not complied.

Rep. John Conyers
2. Poison

How does an adamant opponent of prohibition counter the momentum of his adversaries? Why, he introduces his own prohibition bill. That was Rep. John Conyers’ precise strategy in co-sponsoring the Comprehensive Internet Gambling Prohibition Act of 2000, a measure that would have prohibited all types of internet gambling, without exception, by amending the 1961 Wire Act to expressly cover the internet. Conyers drove a wedge between staunch supporters of absolute prohibition and the Kyl-Goodlatte camps, which had been accumulating support by way of carve-outs. As expected, the Conyers bill was dead on arrival, but it served its purpose as one of several distractions curtailing a prohibition movement that didn’t gain enough support to succeed for another six years.

Rep. Bob Goodlatte
1. The Piggyback

For months after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, Congress was on a bipartisan mission to enact policy protecting the country from terrorism. Not surprisingly, it was collectively understood in Washington that adding non-germane provisions to anti-terrorism legislation at such a crucial time was not to be tolerated. Nevertheless, prohibition sponsor Rep. Bob Goodlatte shifted his strategy immediately after 9/11 to focus on the dangers of internet gambling as a source of funding for terrorism. It didn’t work, and the proposal was swiftly removed from the discussion. While UIGEA ultimately passed as a provision of a homeland security policy, piggybacking such legislation in 2001 and 2002 was about as bold as it gets.

Mark Balestra is the director of publishing for Clarion Gaming. A veteran of 11 years in the online gambling business, Balestra is the editor and co-creator of Interactive Gaming News (www.iGamingNews.com) as well as the editor and co-author of Internet Gambling Report, a legal guide to interactive gambling.

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