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Cronyism to Take Center Stage as Jason Chaffetz Sells Out Constitution to Las Vegas Casino Owner


Congress will spend some time this week doing a huge favor for a big donor. Some times you wish some members would be honest and just put a “For Rent” sign on the Capitol Dome.

(Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Congress will spend some time this week doing a huge favor for a big donor.

Some times you wish some members would be honest and just put a “For Rent” sign on the Capitol Dome.

Wednesday, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee will be doing one of the richest men in the world a huge favor. Chairman Jason Chaffettz has announced the committee will hold a hearing to revive Las Vegas casino owner Sheldon Aldelon's top legislative priority -- a crony effort to limit competition for his multi-billion dollar brick and mortar casino empire.

(Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images) (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

In 2011, the Office of Legal Counsel in the Department of Justice interpreted the Wire Act to apply only to sports betting. That ruling, as Michelle Minton of the Competitive Enterprise Institute has written, was consistent with the legislative intent and language of the law. Limiting the law only to sports betting allowed states to begin to enact legislation to, rightly or wrongly enact laws that legalized online gaming for their residents. It also allowed other states to sell lottery tickets online.

To say the least, some corporate interests were not pleased.

The National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS), whose members make a bulk of their profits selling lottery tickets in their stores, did not like the thought of consumers bypassing their stores to buy scratch-offs. They were joined by Sands Casino owner Sheldon Adleson who feared people might not travel to Las Vegas to partake in games of chance, but would stay home and play on their computers. They combined forces to create legislation known as "RAWA" (Restore America's Wire Act).

The bill was written by Adelson's lobbyist, puts the lid on competition for their corporate interests. The bill would override state laws and reverse the legalization movement. Online gaming would be banned and lottery tickets would, once again, only be available at the convenience store and gas station.

[sharequote align="center"]But cronyism appears to have trumped principles.[/sharequote]

One would think that legislation trampling on the rights of states would be anathema to conservative congressmen -- particularly Rep. Jason Chaffetz of Utah. Chaffetz came to Congress as a Tea Party and 10th Amendment champion.

But cronyism appears to have trumped principles.

Two dozen conservative groups have protested RAWA. Andrew Quinlan of the Center for Freedom and Prosperity has described the bill as “an outright assault on federalism. The legislation tramples on the 10th Amendment by banning state regulation of online gambling – further chipping away at the balance between state and federal governance. The bill would overturn state laws already on the books in three states and would prohibit states from selling lottery tickets online for their own constituents – rolling back at least another six state laws.”

Americans for Tax Reform has said, "the 10th Amendment provides (or should provide) for states to make their own decisions about these issues. Precedent since the birth of the Republic has been to leave decisions about gambling in the hands of the states. It has served the country well for these matters to be settled at the state level, and we encourage you to allow them to remain there. We call on you to reject the approach of RAWA this Congress. States are more than capable of handling this issue on their own."

The Chaffetz hearing will put on clear display which members of Congress show fidelity to the Constitution and which are willing to put principles aside to "do a solid" for their corporate benefactors and rent out a hearing room for a crony.

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