Congressman Continues Brother’s Quest to Ban Online Gambling on Federal Level

In his first year as a freshman Congressional member, Representative Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA) is pushing forward on a family cause: a federal ban over online gambling.

Per a report published last week by Reason.com, the younger Fitzpatrick is currently at work drafting a letter to the Department of Justice (DOJ), requesting that the agency reverse course on a controversial 2011 decision regarding the Wire Act.

That 1961 law banned sports betting from being conducted over the telephone, and has since been used as the basis for the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA) of 2006. But with the release of a short and simple memo in 2011, the DOJ reversed that policy by declaring that the Wire Act applied to sports wagers only – and not online poker or casino games.

Since that memo was made public, three states have forged their own online gambling laws (Nevada, New Jersey, and Delaware), while several more are currently considering similar regulation.

In response to the rise of statewide online gambling industries, land-based casino mogul Sheldon Adelson has sponsored several campaigns to support federal legislation known as the Restore America’s Wire Act (RAWA). And while previous RAWA efforts have failed amidst states’ rights arguments, allies like the Fitzpatrick brothers have repeatedly attempted to resurrect the issue.

Last year, as the end of his fourth and final term in Congress came to a close, Representative Michael Fitzpatrick (R-PA) – Brian’s elder brother – introduced House Resolution 6453, which included the following objective:

“This bill declares that the Memorandum Opinion for the Assistant Attorney General for the Criminal Division of the Department of Justice (dated September 20, 2011) shall have no force or effect for purposes of interpreting the definition of ‘unlawful Internet gambling’ under current federal law.

(The memorandum opinion concluded that state proposals to use the Internet and out-of-state vendors to sell lottery tickets to in-state adults did not constitute unlawful Internet gambling.)”

The resolution received little attention by fellow legislators, and was essentially killed off only weeks after being introduced.

Michael Fitzpatrick ended his tenure in Congress last year, making good on a campaign pledge to limit himself to four terms in office.

His brother Brian successfully ran for the same seat and assumed office in January of this year.

And according to the Reason.com report, the younger brother is keen on continuing his sibling’s anti-iGaming initiative:

“Fitzpatrick is working on a letter that calls for the Department of Justice to allow [Sheldon] Adelson’s army to sidestep the pesky legislative process altogether and unilaterally declare state efforts illegal.”

With Fitzpatrick representing Pennsylvania’s interests in Congress, state lawmakers are currently moving forward with a budget package that relies heavily on a recently passed online gambling regulation package.

The Pennsylvania Senate previously approved H-271 – a comprehensive gambling expansion bill which includes online poker, casino, and daily fantasy sports (DFS) – in May of this year. One month later the House provided its own approval for the measure, which would make Pennsylvania the fourth state to establish a regulated online gambling industry.

H-271 has been adamantly opposed by Adelson, who counts the Sands Bethlehem casino among his collection of casinos.

Despite widespread legislative support for the iGaming provisions, Pennsylvania’s ongoing budget crisis, combined with reservations about H-271’s allowance for video gaming terminals (VGTs) at airports and restaurants, has delayed final passage.

The Pennsylvania legislature essentially kicked the can on iGaming until the fall session, hoping to hammer out a long-awaited consensus on the state’s budget woes.

John Pappas, executive director of the Poker Players Alliance (PPA), stated publicly that iGaming would soon be passed regardless of the delay:

“While there has been little to give us hope that a deal is imminent, most political observers agree that a budget funding package will get done this summer and that it will include iGaming.

It is the least controversial way to raise revenues without raising taxes, yet other highly-charged issues are sucking out the political good will to get a deal done.”

With his home state on the precipice of legalizing online gambling, Brian Fitzpatrick’s planned letter to the DOJ represents a last-ditch effort to make similar statewide iGaming initiatives an impossibility.

As of this time, Fitzpatrick has yet to publish the text of his letter, and no documentation can be found showing that it has been sent.