Lawmakers Seek to Tame 'Wild West' of Online Gambling

J. Scott Applewhite/AP Photo

Place your bets: Senator Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Rep. Jason Chaffetz R-Utha, are going all in to ban online gambling.

It all started two and a half years ago, when the Department of Justice ruled that the Wire Act - which had blocked all online gambling for 50 years - actually only applied to sports betting.

"If there is a case that people want to make for online gambling, they need to come to the Congress," Chaffetz said. "There should not be a single person in the bowels of the Department of Justice reinterpreting law and fundamentally changing the landscape."

The decision opened the floodgates to online gambling, and now, two and a half years after the switch, a bipartisan group of legislators - including Sen. Diane Feinstein, D-Calif., and Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., are in a scramble to close them.

"Basically, it's been the wild West out there on the Internet, which is of deep concern and that creates a huge problem for law enforcement," Ayotte said. "Go read the plain text, because it doesn't even fly with the plain text of the Wire Act."

Attorneys general of 15 states - as well as South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley and potential 2016 presidential candidate Texas Gov. Rick Perry - have added their names to the list of people who want to turn back the clock on online gambling. But not all states are on board; online gambling is an industry that its advocates say can create some major commerce.

"To say that the Wire Act, after 50 years, only applied to sports betting is an incredible legal stretch," Graham said. "It changes fundamentally the statute…I'll say in South Carolinian: it screwed everything up."

Graham also shot down questions about whether the legislation, which is being introduced two and a half years after the change in policy, was prompted by GOP mega donor Sheldon Adelson, whose brick and mortar casino empire in Las Vegas faces competition from the online gambling industry.

"I would say that Sheldon has aligned himself with most Baptists in South Carolina," Graham quipped. "This is an issue where there will be business issues on both sides. I'm on solid footing with people in South Carolina who I represent."

"The attorney general's office, in my view, made a huge legal misstep here, and those of us in Congress who are worried about the effects of online gaming are going to push back," he said.

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