U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham on Wednesday introduced legislation that seeks to prohibit online gambling, an issue that could grow more in demand as Internet use expands.
The bill calls for reversing a 2011 Department of Justice ruling that determined that the federal government's Wire Act prohibits only the act of online sports betting.
Since the decision came out, three states - Delaware, Nevada and New Jersey - have opted to legalize online gambling, but only within their state borders. As many as 10 other states are said to be considering it.
Graham said the bill, if passed, would return the interpretation to the pre-2011 landscape, contending that the Justice Department and Obama Administration had overstepped their bounds for an issue that should have been decided by Congress.
"In 1999, South Carolina outlawed video poker and removed over 33,000 video poker machines from within its borders," said Graham, R-S.C. "Now, because of the Obama Administration's decision, virtually any cell phone or computer can again become a video poker machine. It's simply not right."
The bill was introduced jointly with U.S. Rep. Jason Chaffetz, a Utah Republican. It has other supporters as well.
Critics say the effort is something favored by casino businessman Sheldon Adelson, a strong opponent of online gambling and heavy political giver. The website Politico has reported Adelson and his wife last year were campaign donors to Graham.
Two of Graham's GOP primary opponents took differing views of what was being done. Spartanburg state Sen. Lee Bright said the bill wasn't so much about protecting states as it was helping casino operators who are threatened by online gaming.
"He can't raise enough money" for his re-election, Bright said of Graham.
Campaign filings show Graham has more than $7 million on hand for the election.
Added Orangeburg attorney Bill Connor, "Gambling is traditionally an issue that each state decides for itself. It shouldn't be a federal issue, and I don't like movements to make it one. I will be supportive of any law that continues to empower states to make this decision, and as a South Carolinian, I oppose legalization in this state."
The federal legislation also comes as gambling remains an unsettled issue in South Carolina. This week in the S.C. Legislature, for example, state Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort, warned that if legislators block his bill aimed at allowing retirees to legally play bridge, he'd sue to get South Carolina's centuries-old antigambling law thrown out altogether.
The fight represents the latest attempt to change the state's 1802 antigambling laws that, if read literally, ban any game with cards or dice, including kitchen table poker.
Leaders from several states have also written letters indicating their concerns about the Wire Act interpretation, including Gov. Nikki Haley.
In a note to members of Congress, Haley said gambling, when done in the virtual world, means states lose the ability to determine whether the activity should be available to residents, and under what conditions.
"This seriously compromises the ability of states to control gambling within its borders," she said.
Reach Schuyler Kropf at 937-5551