States protest proposed gambling ban

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The National Conference of State Legislatures is protesting a plan in Congress to ban online gambling.

In a letter to lawmakers on Thursday, the bipartisan group said the push would amount to the federal government usurping the role of the states to decide the legality of gambling online.

“States have proven that they are effective regulators of the gambling industry and the proponents of this legislation fail to make a case that we have been negligent in our responsibilities to the industry and consumers,” wrote Oregon state Sen. Bruce Starr (R), the conference’s president, and Nevada state Sen. Debbie Smith (D), its president-elect.

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Delaware, Nevada and New Jersey have all voted to legalize online gambling within their borders in recent years, and other state governments have also considered moving forward with a similar push.

“This is the way it should work, each state making the decision that is best suited to the desires of its residents and not through a congressional mandate,” the state lawmakers wrote.

They protested a bill introduced last week by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) that would overturn the Justice Department’s 2011 decision to open the door for states to allow online gambling. The department’s new interpretation of the Wire Act, which previously barred the practice, only called for a ban on betting on sporting events, not games like poker or lotteries.

Supporters have said online gambling can present opportunities for millions of new tax dollars to fill state coffers.

Graham and Chaffetz’s bill, the Restoration of America’s Wire Act, has attracted a dozen sponsors from both sides of the aisle. They say the bill is necessary to ensure that the laws are written by Congress, not Justice Department lawyers.

People looking for a ban have found a wealthy backer in Sheldon Adelson, the billionaire owner of the Las Vegas Sands Corp. and an active conservative donor.  

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