Billionaires are used to getting what they want — but that doesn't mean they should always be able to buy what they want.
Legislation, for instance, and lawmakers.
Vegas casino baron Sheldon Adelson seems to believe otherwise. He badly wants the federal government to ban his competition, specifically online gaming, which he regards as a threat to his billion-dollar bricks-and-mortar casino operations. It annoys him that, courtesy of technology, it is possible for people to get online and play a round of poker without checking into the Vegas Sands or one of Adelson's other properties or even leaving their homes.
Adelson doesn't quite phrase it that way, of course. His claim is that he is merely looking out for "the children" — whom he argues are in danger because of the possibility of unsupervised, underaged online gaming. But clearly, it is not gaming that Adelson objects to. It is gaming not controlled by his business interests.
Or which conflicts with his business interests.
His tool for adjusting things more to his liking is an updated version of an old law, the 1961 Wire Act, which was designed by JFK's Justice Department to combat organized crime. The purpose of that law was to make it tougher for the mob to transfer money obtained via illegal gambling operations across state lines. Reconstituted a la Adelson as the Restoration of America's Wire Act (RAWA) the bill specifically targets legal, state-regulated Internet gaming, including (at least potentially) official state lotteries and the purchase of Powerball tickets and so on across state lines.
RAWA would not "restore" anything. What it would do is leverage the power of the federal government to the advantage of casino owners like Adelson. And, more profoundly, passage of RAWA would establish a precedent for federal encroachment on state authority. After all, if Congress can summarily criminalize legal online gaming, why not also legal online ammunition sales?
In any event, Adelson apparently believes he is owed this favor because of the huge sums he has donated over the years to the political campaigns of various politicians. This includes Republican heavyweights such as Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who along with Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, in the House, affixed his name and prestige to RAWA back in 2014.
When it failed to pass, Adelson lump sum-donated a staggering $20 million to a Republican SuperPAC, the Senate Leadership Fund, which invested heavily and almost immediately in the campaign of Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., who coincidentally took up where Graham left off, bringing a RAWA back to the Senate floor for another (failed) attempt just days after the $20 million check cleared the proverbial bank. That effort failed, too, but Adelson isn't giving up.
He is changing tactics, though. Rather than focus exclusively on ramming his bill through Congress, Adelson has also been applying pressure to Attorney General Jeff Sessions. He would like Sessions to order the Department of Justice to issue its own directive bypassing Congress entirely, declaring that legal, state-regulated online gaming in states such as New Jersey, Delaware and of course Adelson's home state of Nevada is no longer allowed.
And if that doesn't work, there is one more possibility. RAWA could also be added to broader legislation (the State Justice Commerce Appropriations bill) that is slated for consideration, possibly as soon as next week.
This is a common tactic used to advance otherwise unpalatable (and unpassable) legislation, by piggybacking it onto something that is palatable and which lawmakers feel pressure to pass.
While it's understandable that Adelson wants to use his billions to get his way, it's egregious that there is even a possibility of Adelson's billions being able to buy his way. And embarrassing.
If RAWA were to pass, Democrats would have a made-to-order scandal handed to them on a silver platter by Republicans, who control all three branches of the federal government. Come next election cycle, it would be devastatingly easy to portray the GOP as the useful tool of crony capitalist oligarchs.
The accusation would be hard to rebut. And that's just one reason RAWA must not be allowed to pass, piggybacked or otherwise.
Eric Peters is a freelance political columnist.
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