Gaming expert: Resurrecting Wire Act bad for Nev.

Dec 1, 2015 3:09 AM

The last thing Nevada’s gaming industry needs is a return to the days when the Federal Wire Act was a sort of one-tool-fits-all-situations approach to battling illegal gambling, a time when no one could explain Internet gaming… because it did not exist.

Nevada had the only game west of the Atlantic Ocean when Congress put the Act in the Justice Department’s crime fighting arsenal way back in 1961, a time when bookmaking and sports betting were mostly synonymous with organized crime and Internet gaming was decades away from happening.

Changing things now would be like rewriting the second amendment to say muskets of that era could be fitted with 30-shot clips.

But here comes Attorney General Adam Laxalt with his longing for a return to the good old days of gaming regulation and a restoration of the Wire Act to its pre-2011 interpretation, which would mean an end to the Internet as a tool of 21st Century gaming.

Yes, we could wave goodbye to online gaming.

Laxalt’s thoughts along these lines last week on a TV interview show produced some eye-rolling, shaking of heads and heavy sighs not to mention a lot of furrowed brows among seasoned regulators and resort bosses.

How could he say such a thing? Was this the view of regulators, lawyers and past and present executives who find themselves straining to digest the fast pace of changes in the legal gaming business.

Gov. Brian Sandoval was quick to register his disappointment with Laxalt’s comments on John Ralston’s show, pointing out that recent changes in rules and regs have all been intended to keep Nevada on the cutting edge of the ongoing process of change that has been driven by technological advances.

“Resurrecting the Wire Act as it used to be interpreted would be bad for Nevada,” Las Vegas attorney and Internet gaming expert Greg Gemignani said.

Former governor and U.S. senator Richard Bryan shared some thoughts about how crime fighting, government and the gaming business have changed in the last 50-plus years but otherwise declined to weigh in on Laxalt’s call for a return to the way things used to be.

A former regulator who shares his thinking on the condition he not be identified by name – there’s nothing to be gained by getting on the wrong side of the attorney general – thought a modernizing of the Wire Act’s language could easily be justified, but resurrecting an outdated interpretation… no, he said in very G-rated language, that would be a really dumb idea.

Most of the people who shared their thoughts on the issue appeared willing to give Laxalt what amounts to a pass on this issue since, as one executive said, “he’s been dealing with a lot of heavy issues.”

Not the least of those, more than one person said, is probably Las Vegas Sands CEO Sheldon Adelson’s no-holds-barred campaign to obliterate online gaming. The billionaire has been throwing money, a lot of money, at this issue for months, as he also supports a variety of conservative causes and Republican candidates.

Laxalt may have figured, as one slightly cynical observer suggested, that he has nothing to lose by signing a letter being circulated by some attorneys general calling for a restoration of the Wire Act’s former interpretation.

The likelihood is nothing will come of all the posturing and lobbying – nothing except a lot of lobbyists fattening their bank accounts.

When all is said and done, nothing is about all it will amount to since Congress has a lot of trouble getting much of anything done. And let’s get just a little bit real. Gambling rules and regs are not among the subjects weighing heavily on the minds of Washington lawmakers during a presidential election cycle.

Laxalt, who was elected Nevada’s attorney general last November was well aware of this as he considered what he might say on last week’s news interview show where he shared his view of the need for a reconstituted Wire Act to help authorities follow the money that ends up in illegal gambling’s laundering machine.

At this point Laxalt has probably satisfied a man (Adelson) who might one day be a leading donar to his next campaign, whatever that might be.

Next campign?

With a name like Laxalt in a state like Nevada how can he not be giving at least a little thought to whatever that next campaign might be?

Phil Hevener has been writing about the Nevada gaming business for more than 30 years. Email: [email protected].