With the political machinations fueling the nation’s online poker debate ramping up during the last year, Republican presidential nominee Senator Marco Rubio of Florida has jumped into the fray in recent months. Unfortunately for Rubio, his confusing statements of support for both the Restoration of America’s Wire Act (RAWA), which would ban all online gambling on the federal level and an online poker exemption in that same law, have led many to question his true convictions on the issue.
Rubio is a 44-year old political prodigy who was born in Miami, Florida to parents who emigrated to the U.S. while escaping Communist Cuba. Rubio earned a B.A. in Political Science from the University of Florida in 1993, before adding a J.D. from the University of Miami School of Law in 1996. During his time in law school, Rubio interned for a local U.S. Representative, while also contributing as a volunteer for Bob Dole’s failed presidential campaign in 1996.
Just two years later Rubio began his rapid ascent through Florida’s Republican ranks after he was elected to a City Commissioner’s seat for West Miami in 1998. Just 26 years of age at the time, Rubio parlayed that electoral victory into a successful career as a politician. He was elected to the Florida House of Representatives in 2000. He rose to become Speaker of the House in 2006, before launching a successful U.S. Senate campaign in 2010. As a U.S. Senator Rubio serves as the chair for the Commerce Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries, and Coast Guard, as well as the Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Western Hemisphere, Transnational Crime, Civilian Security, Democracy, Human Rights and Global Women’s Issues.
Rubio was mentored closely by Florida Governor Jeb Bush during his time as a state legislator and U.S. Senator. In April of 2015, Rubio announced his candidacy for the presidency of the United States, and during the following year, he has campaigned across the country on a hardline conservative platform. Currently, Rubio sits third in mainstream national polls of Republican primary voters, trailing only upstarts Ben Carson and Donald Trump. Many political experts actually consider him the legitimate frontrunner, however, as both Carson and Trump are viewed by many to be unelectable candidates.
Rubio’s foray into the ongoing debate over online gambling legalization and regulation on the federal level occurred in June of 2015 when he signed on to co-sponsor the reintroduced version of the Restoration of America’s Wire Act (RAWA). First proposed by Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) in 2014, RAWA was designed to alter the existing Wire Act of 1961 by expanding the statutory language of the law to include – and thus ban – online gambling of any variety. The Wire Act’s original text prohibits only sports betting via a telecommunication line, an interpretation which was upheld by the Department of Justice in December of 2011.
Graham’s first version of RAWA was introduced in March of 2014 – and at that time Rubio did not sign on as a co-sponsor. Now known as Senate Bill 1668, the reintroduced version of the state’s an objective to
“Amend provisions of the federal criminal code, commonly known as the Wire Act, to provide that the prohibition against using a wire communication facility for the transmission of bets or wagers, wagering information, or wagering proceeds shall: (1) apply to any bet or wager (currently, to bets or wagers on any sporting event or contest); and (2) include any transmission over the Internet carried interstate or in foreign commerce.”
Rubio’s decision to co-sponsor the reintroduced version of RAWA has drawn criticism from political opponents and independent watchdog groups alike, with accusations of corporate cronyism at the heart of their consternation. The RAWA legislation currently being debated by both the House and the Senate is considered to be the brainchild of billionaire casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, one of the country’s leading contributors to conservative political causes and a powerful lobbyist for online gambling prohibition. Adelson created the Coalition to Stop Internet Gambling (CSIG) in 2014 with the express goal of defeating all online gambling legislation floated on the state and federal level, and his support provided the political backing needed to get RAWA off the ground.
With his own presidential campaign in constant need of capital, the majority of which comes from major donors like Adelson, many view Rubio’s sudden embrace of RAWA as a calculated bid to garner Adelson’s patronage. Indeed, major U.K. newspaper the Guardian commented on Rubio’s increasing financial connection to Adelson in its October 29th, 2015 edition by observing:
“Adelson looks poised to make a multimillion-dollar donation to the pro-Rubio Conservative Solutions Project nonprofit or an allied Super Pac, also called Conservative Solutions … Rubio and his political allies have gone the extra mile to appeal to Adelson.
Rubio has met with Adelson a few times in Washington DC and Las Vegas in recent months, and they reportedly speak fairly often on the phone: this month, the two met during a retreat for scores of Rubio fundraisers and donors in Las Vegas, where Adelson’s Las Vegas Sands casino empire is based.”
Earlier in October an article published by Politico also outlined the cozy relationship between Rubio and Adelson following the former’s decision to co-sponsor the latter’s pet project in the Senate:
“Sheldon Adelson, one of the Republican Party’s most sought-after contributors, is leaning increasingly toward supporting Marco Rubio – and the Florida senator is racing to win the backing of other uncommitted megadonors who have the potential to direct tens of millions of dollars his way and alter the contours of the Republican primary fight.
Last week, during a campaign swing through Las Vegas, Rubio held a meeting in Adelson’s offices at the Venetian Las Vegas, one of a number of five-star luxury casinos the billionaire mogul owns around the world. Adelson, seated at the head of his conference table, heaped praise on Rubio’s performance while he discussed the dynamics of the 2016 race.”
Despite the apparent alliance to Adelson, however, Rubio added another dimension to the ever-evolving situation in October, when he perhaps unwittingly drew Adelson’s ire by calling for a so-called carveout in RAWA that would permit online poker. Responding to a question from Las Vegas Review-Journal Senior Editorial Writer Glenn Cook on October 24th, Rubio explained the nuances of his stance on online poker in particular:
“On the issue of Internet poker, the only difference between the poker games and the others is that it involves an element of skill associated with and compared with just a slot machine online. So that’s the one area that distinguishes it a little bit.
These are going to be ongoing issues in the 21st century. The Internet and connectivity have created both new opportunities and new challenges.”
Rubio’s comments, which stand at odds with RAWA’s implicit goal of banning online poker on the federal level, resulted in an immediate rebuke from Las Vegas Sands Senior Vice President of Government Relations Andy Abboud, Adelson’s lieutenant in his ongoing crusade to outlaw online gambling:
“There is no carve-out from the bill’s sponsors. There may be some varying opinions from the co-sponsors, but there really isn’t any push for it.”
While the motivation for Rubio’s support of RAWA has been called into question, his legislative record on the subject of gambling has always leaned to the right. During his tenure as Speaker of the House for the Florida State Legislature, Rubio stated that he was “adamantly opposed to any expansion of gambling” in the state. In 2005 he opposed measures to institute casino-style slot machines in Miami-Dade and Broward counties. Most notably, Rubio sued Governor Charlie Christ while serving as Speaker, claiming Christ had exceeded his mandate when negotiating a lucrative gaming compact with Florida’s Seminole Tribe.