Anti-Gambling Witnesses Stumble Through RAWA Hearing

legal-pokerIn the words of former Arizona Cardinals Coach Dennis Green, they are what we thought they were!

The House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security, and Investigations held a hearing on the Sheldon Adelson-inspired Restoration of America’s Wire Act bill (RAWA for short) and there really weren’t too many surprises throughout the two hour long proceedings.

Advocates for regulated online gambling felt the deck was stacked against them (to use a clichéd poker metaphor) but the extremism of the witnesses proved to be RAWA supporters own worst enemy.

This not only hurt their credibility, but it also made the reasonable voices on the panel (there were two) seem all the more credible.

Considering there was not a single person on the panel with a  stake in seeing online gaming legalized, and the hearing was held in front of a subcommittee that featured not only the bill’s sponsor but several cosponsors, Wednesday’s RAWA hearing should be seen as a win for those of us in favor of legalized and regulated online gaming.

Watch the hearing

The unreasonable

The two vehemently anti-gambling witnesses, Les Bernal, the Director of Stop Predatory Gambling, and Professor John Kindt of the University of Illinois, were opposed to every form of gambling and spent most of their time rattling off debunked facts, citing their own questionable research, and blaming gambling for just about every societal ill.

By the end of the hearing it was apparent that the committee members had grown tired of Kindt’s and Bernal’s obfuscating and hyperbole, as more and more questions were directed at the other witnesses, instead of “going down the line” one-by-one.

Read: Kindt testimony and Bernal testimony

The reasonable

On the opposite end of the spectrum were Parry Aftab, the founder of WiredSafety and a specialist in Internet security, and Andy Moylan the Director of R Street.

Neither of these witnesses were pro-gambling by any stretch of the imagination, yet they both found themselves intensely opposed to RAWA for markedly different reasons – as Parry Aftab noted during the hearing, “this issue is bringing together a lot of strange bedfellows.”

Aftab was of the opinion that RAWA would attack online gambling from the wrong side, as it would eliminate the safe regulated markets and allowing illegal, black-market markets to thrive.

Aftab cited the success regulated online gaming sites have had in keeping minors out since these companies can lose their expensive licenses and be fined should they slip up, whereas black-market sites “are not concerned with keeping children out,” since there is no oversight or penalty for noncompliance.

Moylan opposed RAWA from a state’s right standpoint, and his testimony echoed previous libertarian criticisms of RAWA.

Read: Moylan testimony and Aftab testimony

The in-between

the fifth witness was former DOJ prosecutor Michael Fagan who like Kindt and Bernal is clearly anti-gaming, but unlike Kindt and Bernal, he is not so opposed to gambling that he allows his personal opposition to cloud his judgment.

Fagan’s testimony was in clear support of RAWA, although at one point he did have to concede the bill was problematic, admitting states have the right to legalize gambling within their borders – a right RAWA would take away.

Read: Fagan testimony

The Committee

For the most part the subcommittee members in attendance (there weren’t many) let the witnesses speak uninterrupted, and other than RAWA sponsor Jason Chaffetz no one challenged the witnesses assertions – Chaffetz simply refused to believe any evidence that geolocation technology could ring-fence a state, even though this is no longer a debatable point.

Interestingly, Jason Chaffetz left the hearing early, deciding to exit after his personal time for questions was exhausted.

Only Representatives Chaffetz, Bob Goodlatte, Sheila Jackson-Lee, Ted Poe, and Cedric Richmond asked questions of the witnesses.

Goodlatte wrestled with his opposition to gambling and his views on state’s rights in his statement and during his questions.

Jackson-Lee seemed to be in search of answers to the typical concerns of gambling, such as protecting children.

Representative Poe was adamantly opposed to RAWA.

Richmond, a cosponsor of RAWA in 2014, seemed worried about potential cannibalization of lottery and land-based gaming in Louisiana from online gaming. However, the answers he received to his queries may have pushed more towards opposing RAWA.

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