December 22nd, 2016
He may be the man responsible for one of the most fractious presidential campaigns in recent memory, but will Donald Trump finally take a stand on the US online gambling debate? The polarising President-Elect will formally take office on 20th January 2017.
While online gambling will be low on his list of immediate priorities, it's one that could certainly crop up in the future. With billionaire casino magnate and noted online gambling opponent Sheldon Adelson refusing to let his contempt lie, there's no doubt the issue of a federal ban will rear its ugly head in 2017.
If we look at the state of affairs under the Obama administration, there's a lot to be positive about for online poker and casino fans in the US. Despite numerous attempts to have the Wire Act (1961) reinstated and applied to online gambling in the US (namely through the Restoration of America's Wire Act, aka RAWA), the issue failed to gain any traction.
In fact, even though the likes OGR Committee Chair Jason Chaffetz managed to get RAWA in front of a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee at the close of 2015, that's about as far as things went. Opponents from various sides managed to pick holes in the bill – most notably about its failure to acknowledge state rights – and that virtually killed it off.
But with Adelson having billions at his disposal and a chip on his shoulder, the threat of RAWA is always there. In December 2016 we saw Rep. Michael Fitzpatrick (R-PA) introduce what some have called RAWA 2.0. Essentially calling for the DOJ's 2011 interpretation of the Wire Act (they said it didn't apply to online gambling) to be ignored, Fitzpatrick is hoping HR 6453 will gain some support in the House.
On top of this, a group of ten Attorney Generals wrote an official letter to President-Elect Trump in November calling for him to overturn the current situation. With New Jersey, Nevada and Delaware all offering their own forms of online gambling legalization, the AGs believe Trump should now step in and reinforce the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA).
Now, as mentioned, that letter is likely to be placed somewhere close to the bottom of a very large pile of requests by Trump's aides. In fact, when the man himself takes his position in the White House, it could be at least a year or two before he even gets around to assessing the validity of online gambling legalization in the US.
Of course, as we've seen in the past, strange things can happen, which is why it's worth considering what is already known about Trump's thoughts on online gambling. In truth, there's not much to know about them other than a half-hearted effort to join the online poker industry with Poker Ventures LLC's Marc Lasrey.
After telling Forbes in 2011 that "online gambling has to happen" because the "US is just missing out", Trump received a vendor's license in New Jersey. Although he never pursued the business venture, Trump has shown at least some interest in iGaming.
In fact, what is encouraging is that his claim the US is "missing out" echoes some of his campaign rhetoric. Throughout his bid to become President, Trump was keen to stress that the US needs to become "great again" and catch up to all the things other countries are already doing.
With the UK and other countries across Europe all having successful online gambling laws in place, Trump may take this as another example of how the US is lagging behind the rest of the world. If he does take that point of view, then we could see a massive online gambling push in the coming years.
The chance to become a world leader in the industry, coupled with a huge amount of tax dollars, could just be enough to persuade Trump to repeal UIGEA and implement a federal online gambling bill. Unfortunately, even if Trump does maintain his positive view on the industry, the influence of Adelson's billions can't be ignored.
In reality, the online gambling issue is likely to be a minor one for President-Elect Trump, which could mean he's easily bought and sold on the subject. Without any personal investment in the issue, Trump may simply be willing to bow to the pressure of Republican mega donor Adelson and let him have his way.
Now, it's unlikely Trump would roll over as easily as that given his track record, but it's certainly a scenario the industry needs to be prepared for. If you're placing a bet on online gambling in the US in 2017, perhaps consider staking some money on "no action". Much like 2016, anti-online gambling advocates will have their moments, but they will probably be nothing more that pot shots.
Donald Trump will most likely be far too busy to give the industry much more than a second thought in 2017, which should mean the status quo is at least maintained. In fact, with Trump a big supporter of state rights, the most likely scenario is that he'll let the states decide while he focuses on more pressing issues.