The final draft of the 1,600-page, $1.1 Trillion, Cromnibus/Omnibus spending bill has been revealed, and to the great joy of the poker and iGaming communities Sheldon Adelson’s Restoration of America’s Wire Act (RAWA) did not make the final cut.
This despite reported heavy lobbying efforts to insert it into the must-pass spending bill.
Even with rumors of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) considering capitulating to Adelson’s wishes, a last ditch effort to attach RAWA to the spending bill failed, with reports of Speaker of the House John Boehner personally calling Sheldon Adelson to inform him that RAWA would not make into the legislation.
No official reason was given, but the failure likely stemmed from the absolute need to pass the Cromnibus, and the very real possibility that members of the Republican caucus would vote against the bill if RAWA (or some other measure considered a favor to a particular donor) was part of it.
The first step for RAWA in 2015
When the current session comes to a close at the end of the Lame Duck all pending legislation that hasn’t been acted on will be wiped from the books, including RAWA.
The first step in the process is simply the reintroduction of the bill.
This seems like a simple enough process, but do not overlook the amount of pushback both Representative Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) and Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) received on this matter. Both were accused of engaging in quid pro quo politics and both were roundly mocked for their apparent ignorance on the issue.
It will be interesting to see if they subject themselves to this type of scrutiny and criticism once again for such a minor, but highly contentious policy issue. As Caesars Entertainment’s Jan Jones-Blackhurst told the LVRJ, “We’re pleased this issue will be discussed openly and not hidden in some omnibus bill.”
Another possible path forward would be for a new surrogate to emerge and introduce the bill for Adelson.
The second step for RAWA in 2015
If RAWA is reintroduced in 2015 the next step would be the mustering of enough support and votes in both houses to pass the bill.
But can the Republican leadership of the 2015 Congress whip enough votes to pass RAWA?
This is highly unlikely. Here is why:
- Tea partiers and libertarians are unlikely to support RAWA and are quite likely to be vocal critics of the bill calling supporters perpetrators of crony capitalism and anti-Federalists. Many have already shown a propensity to defy leadership and scoff at the idea of toeing the party line. Therefore,
- The bill will likely require a bipartisan coalition to achieve the necessary number of votes, which will likely be off-putting to both Republicans and Democrats alike in what is a highly polarized Congress where most elected politicians only fear is a primary from a more hard-line candidate. Additionally,
- RAWA is the pet project of Sheldon Adelson, who suffice to say is no friend to Democrats. And of course,
- This is a highly contentious, discretionary issue, and a vote most lawmakers would rather avoid making.
A new battlefield emerging
The Lame Duck was seen as RAWA’s best chance to pass, and even though it made a lot of noise, RAWA was certainly a long-shot throughout.
Considering the path forward during the 2015 Congressional session will be even more difficult, as RAWA would likely have to be addressed as an individual measure and not part of a larger piece of must-pass legislation, the fight to suppress online gambling could wind up taking place in other venues.
The most likely arenas for the online gambling battles of 2015 would be in state legislatures, particularly California and Pennsylvania. It’s likely Adelson will divert most of his anti-online gaming funds away from Congress and toward state houses like California and Pennsylvania in 2015.
Earlier this year at a panel discussion at the C5 Online Gambling Forum, Adelson lobbyist Fabien Nunez stated that the Adelson coalition had succeeded in derailing online poker in California by focusing on some of the issues in New Jersey, such as the grossly overestimated revenue projections and the failure of iGaming advocates to come together around a single unifying message.
The actual impact Adelson’s lobbying had in California is debatable, but what isn’t debatable was his presence – whether they are listening or not, he is speaking in people’s ears via his surrogates.
In California Adelson will use former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown as well as Nunez (of Mercury Public Affairs), and possibly his right hand man Andy Abboud to make his case and prevent online poker legislation from passing.
In Pennsylvania, Adelson has a more direct connection to the state and its lawmakers, as his company, Las Vegas Sands Corp., owns the Sands Bethlehem Casino in PA, one of the top revenue generators in the Pennsylvania gaming industry.
Andy Abboud appeared at a hearing in Pennsylvania earlier this year where he outlined Adelson’s opposition to Internet gambling – Unlike California where the legislature is considering poker-only expansion, Pennsylvania is looking to pass comprehensive online gambling.
One small bright spot is Pennsylvania campaign finance law prohibit casino owners from contributing to anyone running for statewide office. This somewhat limits the political influence Adelson has in Pennsylvania.
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