Congress should stop the unconstitutional effort to ban online gambling

Remember the first time you saw a magician when you were young? It was an amazing experience. You might have believed magic was real. But you eventually came to realize (I hope) that sleight-of-hand can deceive the mind. Eventually smart people realize that "things are not always as they seem." 

I've had the privilege of serving Georgia in the state House of Representatives and as a member of Congress for the past 24 years. During that time, I've seen a lot of legislation. And I've seen a lot of unintended consequences of legislation that tried to do something big, but just ended up growing government. Most people can quickly name some examples: ObamaCare, taxes, regulations.

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But those are the obvious ones. It’s the legislation that is introduced under "special circumstances” to benefit a particular industry that often has the worst unintended consequences. With legislation in Congress, we often face the same conundrum we faced when watching the magician: things are not always as they seem. You simply can't take someone's claims at face value. You have to look behind the legislation to see what forces want to make it law.

 

As I was following the legislation to allow “destination resort” casinos in Georgia, I noticed that the Restoration of America's Wire Act (RAWA) had been reintroduced in Congress. Proponents claim that they simply want to protect children from online gambling—and who could be against that? But it is yet another example of a "special circumstance” bill that would override decisions made by the people of individual states.

What is the need for this legislation? Only three states currently allow online Internet gaming: Nevada, New Jersey, and Delaware. RAWA would make online gambling illegal in all 50 states. And it has sweeping consequences for the structure of our government.

While times may be changing, Georgia has historically frowned on gambling. We have a long history of relatively strict laws against gambling. We prohibit wagering on horse and dog races. And—for the moment—we don’t allow casinos. But we all recognize that states like ours can have conservative laws against gambling, while other states like Nevada can have casinos on every corner and allow online gaming. 

That's what our founders intended: for the citizens of each state to set the moral standards that govern in that particular state. They specifically stated in the Tenth Amendment that powers not delegated to the federal government were reserved to the states or the people.

RAWA seeks to change that historic structure of the states governing themselves by having the federal government dictate gambling laws for everyone. That shift furthers the idea of a strong central government requiring uniformity in all states instead of recognizing the uniqueness of each individual state's laws.

RAWA has other unintended (or possibly intended) consequences. We have the Georgia Lottery that allows citizens to purchase tickets online. The lottery brings in millions of dollars for education and the HOPE scholarship. RAWA would outlaw those operations, imposing a federal prohibition on all such sales.

While casino magnates like Sheldon Adelson may support outlawing online games as a way to drive business to their brick-and-mortar casinos, even Georgians who oppose gambling should recognize this as a subtle attempt to centralize even more power in Washington.

The Georgia Delegation understands this. Republican Congressman Jody Hice, a pastor for almost 25 years and a staunch opponent of gambling, said RAWA flies in the face of the Constitution and that we have to protect the Tenth Amendment and states’ rights “whether or not we like the gambling issue as a whole."

Another Republican, Rep. Doug Collins, agrees. He is opposed to RAWA and any attempt to ram it through Congress. He also understands that it could have implications for our Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms by potentially ceding power to Congress to outlaw the online sale of ammunition, and on our First Amendment rights by giving Congress the right to legislate what happens on the Internet. 

Legislation that opens the door to unintended consequences is the most dangerous kind of lawmaking effort in D.C. States have historically dealt with gambling laws without federal interference and should continue to do so. And I sincerely hope that champions of liberty in Congress will rise up to join Collins and Hice in defending our constitutional freedoms.

Lynn Westmoreland served in the U.S. House as a Georgia Republican from 2005-17.


The views expressed by contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.