The New Prohibition


Prohibition’s back.

Well, it’s trying to make a comeback, anyhow.

Not of booze, this time.

Of online gambling.

Certain Republican lawmakers, including presidential hopeful Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Jason Chaffetz of Utah, are pushing for a federal ban on online gambling via something called the Restoration of America’s Wire Act, aka HR 707.

Just as the “Patriot” act has little do with patriotism, RAWA has little to do with restoring anything. But it does have a great deal to do withprohibiting things. Or rather, protecting the financial interests of uber-wealthy campaign contributors such as Vegas casino baron Sheldon Adelson.

The bill would prevent states from allowing online gambling within their borders, irrespective of the will of the people within those states. And, potentially, could be used to force states to accept online gambling (and many other things) in the future, if Congress so decrees.

It’s a major federal power grab and an assault upon the Tenth Amendment that, ironically, isn’t being pushed by Democrats this time.

Republican lawmakers claim to be motivated by a desire to restrict an activity they view as harmful, particularly to children. But is it coincidental that the lawmakers taking this line are lining up with the financial interests (and campaign contributions) of the billionaire owner of the Las Vegas Sands and other “brick and mortar” casino interests?

Adelson doesn’t oppose gambling, per se.

Just gambling that isn’t profitable for him.

In addition to his seven figure support (yes, literally) for obliging GOP candidates, Adelson founded a political action committee called the Coalition to Stop Internet Gambling and put on his payroll political hacks such as Republican former New York Gov. George Pataki, and has partnered with the evangelical Christian leader Ralph Reed, playing on the Christian right’s “moral” opposition to suit his own purely pecuniary agenda.

Reed is an old hand at this game. Reed, you may recall, was caught doing business with the now-disgraced Indian casino lobbyist Jack Abramoff back in the early 2000s.

Adelson has even buddied up with Democratic Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada, dangling the prospect of not supporting his GOP opponent in the next election in return for Reid’s support of his anti-online gambling agenda.

Reid claims the casino mogul is “… not in this for the money.”

Which is kind of like saying a great white shark isn’t in it for the seal dinner.

Adelson has been trying to use the government to stifle what he perceives as a threat to his bottom line for some time now. He has put his billions behind H.R. 707, which is putting enormous pressure on rank and file GOP lawmakers to support the proposed legislation because of its sponsorship by the GOP leadership, which in turn fears the king-making (and king-breaking) power of money-men such as Sheldon Adelson.

One of the few lawmakers who appears principled enough to resist this pressure is Virginia Rep. Bob Goodlatte, who personally opposes gambling but supports the constitutional idea of federalism. He wants to leave things to the judgment of the individual states on Tenth Amendment grounds. Dictating state gambling laws is not properly a matter for the federal government.

This is exactly what the Constitution intended.

The Tenth Amendment recognizes that, as the saying goes, what plays in Peoria may not play in New York. And vice versa. Tastes, public opinion, conceptions of what’s acceptable vary from place to place. Thus, in Alaska, one does not need a permit to carry a concealed handgun. In Arizona, there are drive-through liquor stores. In Utah, there are no liquor stores. Several states have “medical marijuana” laws. Etc.

One size does not fit all.

America is a big country, and part of what makes it a great country is regional variety. And local control.

Moreover, it is possible Goodlatte recognizes that if H.R. 707 passes, it will set a precedent that will empower the federal government to ban (or mandate) other things, not just online gambling.

For example, online sales of guns and ammunition.

Ironically, Rep. Chaffetz was once upon a time a member of the House Tenth Amendment Caucus, and Graham likes to style himself a “conservative” Republican.

Yet both men are carrying water for legislation that will greatly empower the federal government and potentially set a very dangerous precedent for future federal over-reach.

If Graham, Chaffetz and the Republican leadership were taking a principled stand against gambling as such, that would be one thing. But, as they teach in journalism school, follow the money. No gambling that doesn’t threaten the profits of Sheldon Adelson, et al, is threatened. Just the gambling that does.

As the Church Lady on “Saturday Night Live” used to say, how convenient. Dangerous, too.

Kudos are due to Bob Goodlatte and other Republicans who, so far, have not allowed their faithfulness to constitutional principles to buckle under the weight of Sheldon Adelson’s bags of campaign cash.

aul and Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley, have similar backbone.

Eric Peters is an automotive journalist and author. His next book, “Doomed,” will be available this winter. Thinking of submitting an op-ed to the Washington Examiner? Be sure to read our guidelines on submissions.


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