Federal Sports Betting Hearing Hijacked by Sheldon Adelson Forces into Anti Online Gambling Farce

Updated: September 30th, 2018 by Haley Hintze

This week, a long-delayed hearing before a US House of Representatives subcommittee on the possibility of regulating sports betting on the federal level found itself co-opted into yet another anti-online gambling crusade by the forces of Sheldon Adelson, long the number-one enemy of legalized online gambling.

The hearing, held on Wednesday before the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security, and Investigations, was titled “Post-PASPA: An Examination of Sports Betting in America”. One would surmise that this was a hearing on what direction the federal government might consider in the wake of this spring’s Supreme Court ruling that the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) was unconstitutional, and therefore null and void.

One might have expected that, but as information about the hearing was released, it became apparent that the hearing was a quid pro quo engineered by Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte on behalf of Adelson, even if during the hearing it was acknowledged that it was an information-only gathering not directly connected to any pending or planned legislation.

The hearing’s list of appearing “expert” witnesses made it clear that something was up:

Les Bernal
National Director, Stop Predatory Gambling

Jon Bruning
Counselor, Coalition to Stop Online Gambling

Becky Harris
Chair, Nevada Gaming Control Board

Jocelyn Moore
Executive Vice President, Communications and Public Affairs, National Football League

Sara Slane
Senior Vice President of Public Affairs, American Gaming Association

The fudge in this particular toilet bowl floated right at the top, in the form of the two radically anti-gambling spokesmen, Les Bernal and Jon Bruning. Bruning was the tabbed representative of Adelson’ well-funded Coalition to Stop Gambling (CSIG), while Bernal was a last-moment replacement for yet another prominent anti-gambling figure, University of Illinois professor John Kindt. Bernal subbing in for Kindt wasn’t much of a big deal, as they’re regarded as two peas from the same pod, having worked together on anti-gambling pieces and efforts over the years.

Both Kindt and Bernal also have very close ties to Adelson’s CSIG group, which essentially gave the group two “expert” seats at the hearing, out of just five total. Both, as with Adelson and CSIG, also enjoyed previous close relationships to Rep. Goodlatte, who remains widely reviled in American online gambling circles for his significant role in passing 2006’s UIGEA (Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act), which was levered into law through underhanded and undemocratic means. It didn’t really matter, therefore, that one replaced the other.

So it was Bernal joining Bruning in using the subcommittee’s invitation to launch and attack on gambling in general and on online gambling in particular. Bernal, as one of the US’s foremost opponents of all forms of gambling, used the appearance to try to generate support for some imagined new version of PASPA, simply because the states, in his view, are frauds. “State governments are often called laboratories of democracy,” Bernal wrote in his formal statement. “But over the last 30 years, the record is clear: when it comes to gambling policy, states are laboratories of fraud, exploitation and budgetary shell games.”

Bruning, representing CSIG’s and Adelson’s wishes, went one step weirder. In a lengthy submission to the subcommittee, the former Nebraska Attorney General even asserted that all forms of online gambling are unconstitutional because they can’t guarantee that Nebraskans somehow can’t gamble online. This is all part of the big CSIG lie, which is to somehow pretend that there is now difference between a regulated site in another US state and an unregulated offshore offering. Only by alleging that the two are the same can Adelson and his paid flunkies attempt to mount opposition to regulated US online gambling.

Besides, under the premise that Bruning floats, the entire internet itself would be unconstitutional, simply because the rest of the world isn’t doing whatever that conservative Nebraskan desires. And one wonders why the US trails the modern countries of Europe so significantly in online matters.

Then it was to the other expert witnesses to follow Bernal’s and Bruning’s bizarre and off-topic performances, and one of those three was also a large online-gambling foe, in the NFL. The NFL’s Jocelyn Moore kept her submission more on focus, though again it was about (illegally) stripping regulatory power from the states and returning it to the federal government, a la PASPA, a law an NFL lawyer once famously declared would never be overturned. Now the NFL wants sham integrity fees and or data-rights fees; either of those, if authorized, would be a form of state-sanctioned extortion.

In other words, the hearing was a circus. The bad news is that the anti-online gambling rhetoric was every bit as awful as envisioned. The good news is that it likely won’t have any impact. Despite the tens of millions of dollars that Adelson continues to drop into Republican Party coffers to purchase his desired outcome on the issue, the horses are out of the virtual barn. Legalized sports betting and online gambling are continuing their slow expansion across the US. It’s going to take many years, perhaps a generation, but the US will, someday, catch up.

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