Casino-backed 'coalition' works to ban online gambling

As soon as they finish shoveling out the Capitol, the next big fight in Congress is a replay of the now familiar cyber commerce v. bricks and mortar fight.

Billion-dollar conglomerates often comes to Washington looking for a handout, a bailout or a tax break that will give them an advantage in the marketplace but it’s rare that they ask that their competition be outlawed.

That is exactly what the $14 billion Las Vegas Sands Corporation, headed by billionaire Sheldon Adelson, is asking Congress to do through a bill now being drafted by Sen. Dean Heller (R.-Nev.).

The stage was set for this fight Dec. 23, 2012 when the Department of Justice reversed its 2002 interpretation of the 1961 Federal Wire Act that forbade all gambling on the Internet. The decision opened the door to a number of states such as Delaware and New Jersey legalizing online gaming for their residents.

These states are part of a growing organic federalism movement that includes pushing for nullification of ObamaCare, expansion of gun rights and legalization of marijuana.

Fearful of the growing movement of legalized gaming online, Adelson is pledging to “spend whatever it takes” to have the federal government override state prerogatives and overturn these actions in one fell swoop.

In December testimony before the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Andrew F. Abboud, a senior vice president of The Sands, pleaded with members of Congress to regulate the Internet, staunch the new organic federalism and limit competition for the benefit of the Vegas casino giant.

Abboud testimony:

Abboud said states like New Jersey and Delaware, who have received the nod from Justice to go ahead to legalize online gaming, must be stopped in their tracks.

???There is a big difference between having to go to a casino to place a bet, and having the casino come to you,??? he said. Well, yes. There is also a big difference between waiting in line two hours at the vehicle registry and renewing your license online in 10 minutes.

Abboud was honest enough to admit that the effort is not about protecting children or stopping gambling ??? he does run a casino ??? but rather an effort to limit competition.

State regulated Internet gambling ???could very well be the demise of our industry,??? he said to the panel. One can imagine local travel agents railing against websites like in the early 1990s.

But rather than just complain about it, Adelson is doing what he promised — spending huge sums to stop it. He formed and funded the Coalition to Stop Internet Gaming with the purpose of implemented a federal ban.

“Targeting the young, the poor and the elderly where they live, Internet gambling takes gambling too far. Internet Gambling crosses the line of responsible gaming by bringing gambling into our living rooms and onto our smartphones, tablets and home computers 24 hours a day without necessary protections,” the coalition’s website declared. “Congress must protect United States residents and citizens by restoring the longstanding federal ban on Internet gambling.”

Joining the coalition is long line of former elected officials, some of whom were advocates of expanded gaming when they were in office, now dance to a different beat, including former New York governor George Pataki.

Another blast from the past is Martha M. Coakley, the Bay State attorney general, whose last call to the national stage was as the woman who blew a 50-point lead to former senator Scott P. Brown. Having Coakley in the cast is a guarantee that the effort is flawed.

The problems with this effort are multiple.

Most Americans agree that the Internet should be free from government interference wherever and whenever possible. (Can you hear me now, NSA?)

Yet, every now and again an industry comes to Washington with PAC dollars and contributions looking for Congress to step in and begin to regulate the Internet to help protect their business model.

Two years ago, Hollywood and the Recording Industry of America pressed their case for the ???Stop Online Privacy Act???, a bill that would allow the government to ban websites and blogs that link to pirated materials. The result was a worldwide uproar that forced the entertainment industry to back off.

This effort is no different.

As federalism pops up all over the country, all we should really say is: ???At last! Everyone talks about states??? rights and federalism, but nobody ever did anything about it.???  Just as states deal with concealed carry permits and drivers??? licenses, Delaware and Nevada signed compacts to allow citizens of each state to play online poker on the other state???s sites.

This is the essence of constitutional federalism in practice.

The federal government has no business impeding state power in such a manner for any reason let alone doing so to protect the billion dollar businesses from competition.

When the Heller bill hits the Senate floor, defenders of Internet freedom and devolving federal prerogatives should hit the ceiling.

If Congress goes along with this scheme to pick winners and losers, then once again Las Vegas Sands hits the jackpot???and we go home poorer.