Despite a former casino owner in the White House, real-money online casino gaming will be at risk on Capitol Hill in 2017.
Controversial efforts to “restore” the 1961 Wire Act to prohibit internet gambling seemed to be gaining some momentum in the final weeks of 2016, but fortunately another year will come to a close with no progress for RAWA.
That’s a good thing because the U.S. is trying to become more like the U.K., which has a robust online casino industry that is one of the most regulated in the world. Online casinos in UK generate $5.5 billion a year.
In a media call this week to address what the Donald Trump Administration will mean for the United States casino industry, the American Gaming Association said that it’s pushing for “common ground” on the issue.
“The issue of online gaming and the efforts to work through Congress or the Administration to address current interpretation of the Wire Act is very important to us,” AGA President and CEO Geoff Freeman said. “While we don’t have alignment in the industry as to whether or not real money internet casino gaming should be permitted, we do have alignment that anything that is done in this area should not hinder what happens in brick-and-mortar casinos.”
“For example, we’ve had significant concerns that certain language we have seen on Capitol Hill could affect traditional slots in brick-and-mortar casinos and how they communicate with slots in other casinos, intrastate or across state lines,” Freeman added. “We’re going to make sure something like that is not affected, and that traditional brick-and-mortar activities are protected. I continue to hope the industry finds common ground on this issue. We continue to work with the industry privately to try to drive common ground. We’ll continue to track the issue very closely.”
The latest RAWA-like proposal came earlier this month from Rep. Michael Fitzpatrick (R-PA). There’s also fear that Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) as U.S. Attorney General could eventually result in Department of Justice action to bolster the Wire Act, just a handful of years after the Obama DoJ watered down the law, allowing states to regulate online casinos.
The U.S. commercial casino industry is a $40 billion market. New Jersey, which controlled more than 90 percent of the regulated online casino market last year, saw its betting sites win about $150 million. Internet gaming in the Garden State is up about 30 percent this year.
The handful of states with online lottery offerings could also be affected by efforts to restore the Wire Act. Many opponents of RAWA have pointed out that it tramples on states’ rights.
Billionaire casino owner Sheldon Adelson is the driving force behind RAWA efforts. He argues that the games pose a risk to land-based gambling and has pledged to spend “whatever it takes” to either implement a prohibition or block the expansion of online casinos. In 2016, Pennsylvania, New York, Michigan, California and Massachusetts all considered online casinos as a way to shore up their respective brick-and-mortar industries.