RAWA Gets a Hearing but Supporters’ Testimonies Failed to Impress Committee Members

The Restore America’s Wire Act (RAWA), which aims to force a federal prohibition against all forms of Internet gambling, received a hearing last Wednesday from the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security, and Investigations.

Contrary to what RAWA supporters had hoped to elicit, the hearing saw lawmakers belonging to both parties, raise concerns about RAWA’s ability to stifle unauthorized and illicit Internet gambling without any regulations in place. Other committee members were concerned about RAWA’s potential infringement on the rights of states, to exercise their right to regulate Internet gambling within their respective jurisdiction.

Apparently, the testimonies of the RAWA supporters presented conditions that seemed to give credence to arguments in favor of Internet gambling regulation. Those who testified against RAWA cited the effectiveness of regulated markets in keeping online gambling inaccessible to minors, and from preventing black market operators to thrive in their respective jurisdiction.

Passionate anti-gambling witnesses, Director of Stop Predatory Gambling Les Bernal, and University of Illinois Professor John Kindt were simply opposed to all forms of gambling. Rather than spend their allotted time in questioning Bernal’s and Kindt’s confusing testimonies about facts and exaggerations that have already been debunked and regarded as questionable, the committee members focused on the arguments of other witnesses by going from one person to the next.

Parry Aftab, the Executive Director of Internet security expert Wired Safety, opined that imposing RAWA is akin to attacking Internet gambling on the wrong side, since it aims to eliminate the secure regulated markets that could eventually allow the unauthorized and illicit markets to flourish. He cited as examples the level of success attained by regulated online gambling sites in ensuring the prevention of underage gamblers from accessing their online facilities.

Mr. Aftab explained the importance of those attributes, since Internet gambling companies could lose their costly licenses in addition to being slapped with steep fines for errors caused by carelessness. He added that their position stands in contrast to illicit operators who have less concerns in keeping underage gamblers out of their online gambling sites. This is often the case because there is no regulatory body overseeing their operations and monitoring compliance that calls for penalties in case there is something amiss.

Another testifier, Andrew Moylan, the Executive Director of R Street Institute, a free-market research, and consultancy firm, voiced his opinion that allowing the introduction of RAWA is tantamount to trampling on the rights of states to legislate laws that will legalize online gambling within their boundaries.

Michael Fagan, a professor at Washington University School of Law whose personal views are in support of anti-gambling, maintained an open mind despite his support of RAWA. At some point during his testimony, he admitted that the RAWA bill is characteristically problematic particularly on its impact on the right of states to make online gambling legal within their confines, a right that RAWA could likely take away.

Democratic Rep. John Conyers of Michigan had expressed the same opinion. He said that states should have the freedom to decide the question of Internet gambling by themselves, and that lawmakers should not take action that would override such state laws.

Texas Republican Ted Poe gave advice that a sweeping prohibition on Internet gambling could pave the way for an online gambling black market, in the same way that a black market for alcohol was created by the previous Prohibition law.

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