WASHINGTON – Lawmakers from both parties introduced legislation in the House and Senate on Wednesday aimed at banning online gambling, setting the stage for an uncertain battle in Congress.
The measures are aimed at reversing a 2011 decision by Attorney General Eric Holder that a 1961 law used in recent years to curb Internet gaming only barred sports betting. The bills introduced Wednesday would broaden the prohibition to where it stood before Holder’s ruling.
Three states have legalized online gaming since the Justice Department’s 2011 ruling: Nevada, New Jersey and Delaware. Others have been considering doing so in an effort to find lucrative new sources of revenue.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., the chief Senate sponsor, is running for re-election this year and has been seeking to shore up conservative support for the June GOP primary. The House version is sponsored by Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah. Both sponsor’s states have histories of curbing gambling.
Graham said that because of the Justice Department decision, “Virtually any cellphone or computer can again become a video poker machine. It’s simply not right.”
Chaffetz said restoring the earlier interpretation of the 1961 law would be “putting the genie back in the bottle.”
Each bill has co-sponsors from both parties, including Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, D-Mo.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., who controls his chamber’s agenda, has supported legalizing online poker.
Nevada’s other senator, Republican Dean Heller, favours Internet poker in Nevada and wants to let states decide whether to permit poker online. He also thinks a major expansion of online gambling would be “bad for Nevada and for the country,” Heller spokeswoman Chandler Smith said.
Sheldon Adelson, a major financial backer of GOP candidates and a casino owner, has said he will spend money to try halting online gambling.