Nevada’s attorney general is making enemies in his home state after signaling his support for Sheldon Adelson’s bid to ban online gambling.
On Tuesday, Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt (pictured right) told Nevada journalist Jon Ralston that he intended to add his name to the list of state attorneys general that support passage of the Restoration of America’s Wire Act (RAWA), the Adelson-supported federal bill that would ban most forms of online gambling in the United States.
The AG chain letter was issued last month bearing the signatures of the Missouri and South Carolina AG’s, who urged their counterparts to sign on. A similar letter circulated in 2014, ultimately garnering the signatures of 16 state AG’s, but it had little impact on Washington’s willingness to take RAWA seriously and the bill failed to come up for a vote in either the House or Senate.
Challenged by Ralston as to why Laxalt was flip-flopping on his traditional support for state’s rights over federal power, Laxalt claimed that there were “a couple giant exceptions” to that rule, and gaming was “a different animal” requiring a different approach. (Full video here, RAWA discussion begins around 22:30 mark.)
Laxalt claimed that the US Department of Justice’s late-2011 opinion that confirmed the 1961 Wire Act applied only to online sports betting had “changed the landscape” without properly consulting stakeholders. Laxalt claimed Congress “spoke on this issue” in passing the original Wire Act and Laxalt believed action was needed to restore the situation to “the status quo.” Laxalt claimed there was “consensus” on the need to nip online gambling in the bud and then see if Congress wants to formally change the rules.
Laxalt claimed that he hadn’t discussed RAWA with Adelson, who helped bankroll Laxalt’s 2014 campaign to become Nevada’s top legal advisor. It’s worth noting that Laxalt’s sister Tessa is a lobbyist for j3 Strategies, whose clients include Adelson’s Coalition to Stop Internet Gambling and his Las Vegas Sands casino business.
Reaction to Laxalt’s statement was swift. Nevada Gaming Control Board chairman A.G. Burnett said he disagreed with Laxalt’s position on RAWA because “states should be left to regulate gaming as they choose.”
Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval was more pointed in his disagreement, noting that RAWA would undo the state’s existing online poker market. Sandoval, a former AG himself, said he was “very concerned that someone representing the state’s legal interests would speak out against current state law in our leading industry.” Well, technically, it was Adelson speaking out, but we take his point.