For far more than 200 years, the federal government has let the states decide what their public policy toward gambling will be. Neighboring states, like Utah and Nevada, can adopt prohibition or casinos, and the federal government’s role has been to either step aside, or, if asked, to help a state enforce its laws.
That relationship changed on October 13, 2006, when Pres. George W. Bush signed the SAFE Port Act. As part of a futile presidential bid, Bill Frist (R.-TN.), then Majority Leader of the U.S. Senate, had tacked on the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act.
The impact of the UIGEA is well known. Now the question is, when will it be changed?
The answer depends in part on presidential politics.
The Republicans have little interest in liberalizing Internet gambling, especially in an election year, when they are pandering to the religious far right. Even if the Democrats could squeeze a legalization bill through Congress, Pres. Bush would veto it.
When Democrats took control of the Senate, Harry Reid, senator from Nevada, became Majority Leader. The American Gaming Association, the lobbying group for land-based casinos, wants a study that will conclude that online gaming can be conducted safely, and should be limited to operators who are already licensed. For example, land-based casinos.
Sen. Reid could make that happen, if the President is also a Democrat.
But, if John McCain wins, Republicans will take over the Senate, so nothing will change.
Insiders know that if Hillary Clinton is the nominee, Democrats will lose the Senate, even if she wins the presidency by carrying large, industrial states. Although she is admired by many, Hillary is the most hated woman in America. She is so despised, that it is hard to think of any woman who would be in second place.
As John A. Millin, chair of the Wyoming state Democratic Party put it: “It has become the dirty little secret in the Democratic Party. For reasons I don’t agree with and don’t completely understand, most voters in Wyoming seem to hate Hillary Clinton.”
It has been said that she is the only person who can unify the Republican Party. Many conservatives will sit out the election if it is Barack Obama versus McCain. But they will be energized, if they can vote against Hillary. In the process they will also vote against Democratic candidates for Congress. It will be massive numbers of Democrats who won’t vote, if the Clintons are seen as stealing the nomination from Obama, or sending him to the back of the bus as Vice President. There will then be four years of deadlock.
Assuming Obama is nominated and wins, the Democrats will keep control of Congress and there will be a change in federal law. It might come as early as 2009. More likely, it won’t be until 2010, or even later. The federal law will go back to allowing the states to decide. If a state wants to allow its residents to bet online, it can opt-in, exactly the system that exists for horseracing today.
But that change won’t happen for many years, unless Obama is elected President and the Democrats keep control of Congress.
© Copyright 2008. Professor I Nelson Rose is recognized as one of the world’s leading experts on gambling law. His latest books, Internet Gaming Law and Gaming Law: Cases and Materials, are available through his website, www.GamblingAndTheLaw.com.