During the 2016 campaign, Donald Trump was never asked what he thought of online gambling, which is currently banned in most states. Perhaps journalists presumed that a builder of casinos would be in favor of it. Yet now as president, Mr. Trump must face the issue. Both the Supreme Court and his nominee for US attorney general, Sen. Jeff Sessions, could soon decide to keep such bans in place.
In the past, Senator Sessions has expressed negative views about government support of online gambling. He has noted the ease with which children can bet on the internet using an adult’s credit card. During his confirmation hearing in January, the Alabama Republican promised to “revisit” a 2011 memo by the Obama Justice Department that gave a green light to states to pursue online gambling as long as it was within their borders and didn’t involve sports betting.
The Supreme Court, meanwhile, asked the Justice Department in January for its opinion on the constitutionality of a 1992 law, the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA). That law bans most state governments from legalizing betting on sporting events. New Jersey, which has voted to partially allow sports betting online, wants the justices to overturn the federal ban. At this point, the high court has yet to decide to take the case from a lower court, although its request to the Justice Department indicates it might.
If the next US attorney general decides to reverse that 2011 ruling, he will be in good company. The state attorneys general of 10 states – including Nevada – sent a memo to Trump in December asking for the ruling to be overturned. They said the ruling, which was an attempt to interpret the 1961 Wire Act, could expose “states to the significant negative impacts that often accompany online gambling.”
In addition, Congress is weighing a bill, known as the Restoration of America’s Wire Act, that would also reverse the Obama ruling.
As many other countries have learned from recent experience, online gambling comes with social costs that outweigh the tax revenues. Gambling enterprises, including state lotteries, prey on the poor, the young, and those prone to addiction. Trump may not see it that way, given his past in the casino market. But his choice for attorney general, as well as Vice President Mike Pence, have alternative views.
Most of all, if the president wants to restore vitality and innovation to the economy, he should be emphasizing hard work and talent over belief in a vague notion of luck. His own work record shows he does not leave things to “chance.” Why then, as president, would he want to promote gambling?