Five years ago in December, the Department of Justice (DOJ) acted in accordance with Obama Administration policy to effectively remove the federal laws prohibiting online poker and casino gambling.
At the time, U.S. Deputy Attorney General James Cole wrote a letter to the Attorneys General of New York and Illinois, siding with their challenges that the Wire Act of 1961 should not be applied to online lotteries and other forms of gambling:
“The Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (“OLC”) has analyzed the scope of the Wire Act, 18 U.S.c § 1084, and concluded that it is limited only to sports betting.”
With one simple sentence, the DOJ reversed its own longstanding policy against online gambling. In the five years to follow, states like Nevada, New Jersey, and Delaware have passed bills permitting regulated online gambling industries, while several others are currently considering similar legislation.
Today, however, with President-elect Donald Trump and Vice President-elect Mike Pence poised to assume office in January, another missive from Attorneys General threatens to reverse the pivotal Wire Act reinterpretation.
On November 17 a group of 10 Attorneys General, each representing the Republican Party, penned a letter to VP-elect Pence – a longtime opponent of online gambling in any form – calling for the new administration to intervene:
“Since 1961, the Wire Act…has prohibited all gambling involving interstate wire transmissions. The Obama Administration overruled 50 years of practice and precedent when a Department of Justice Office of Legal Counsel opinion claimed the Wire Act only applied to sports betting and not to other types of online gambling.
Dismantling the Wire Act undermined state online gambling prohibitions. Without a federal prohibition, (DOJ) opened the door to expansive internet gambling and exposed states to the significant negative impacts that often accompany online gambling.”
The coalition includes Attorneys General from the usual lineup of Southern states traditionally opposed to online gambling, with one notable surprise in Adam Laxalt of Nevada:
Jeff Landry (R-Louisiana)
Bill Schuette (R-Michigan)
Douglas J. Peterson (R-Nebraska)
Adam Laxalt (R-Nevada)
Wayne Stenehjem (R-North Dakota)
E. Scott Pruitt (R-Oklahoma)
Alan Wilson (R-South Carolina)
Marty Jackley (R-South Dakota)
Ken Paxton (R-Texas)
Sean Reyes (R-Utah)
The letter rehashes the same consumer protection arguments that have been roundly debunked by members of Congress during failed efforts to pass the Restore America’s Wire Act (RAWA):
“Anonymity is the Internet’s greatest weapon and the federal government has the resources and oversight necessary to truly address the dangers of online gambling and protect the American people.
Online gamblers are vulnerable to fraud and identity theft…some online sites have been found to use forced labor to ‘farm currency’…(and) the sites themselves are vulnerable to hacking.”
Rich Muny, the Vice President of the Poker Player’s Alliance (PPA), issued a statement assailing the letter and its lack of factual argument:
“This is simply a bad idea. A ban would reduce individual freedom while limiting the ability of states to protect consumers. The arguments made in the letter are factually incorrect and attempt to conflate offshore online gaming with state-authorized online poker. US-based sites block for age and location.
There are zero documented cases of underage or out-of-state play, yet the letter pushes a ‘Reefer Madness’ type narrative of underage ‘gambling additions [sic]’. I guess if ten attorneys general cannot spell-check a letter to the VP-elect, expecting a fact-check from them would be out of the question, sadly.”