Attorney General Jeff Sessions has once again recused himself from a Department of Justice (DOJ) investigation, this time into the merits of 2011’s revised DOJ interpretation of the Wire Act.
The recusal comes on the heels of a Bloomberg report published June 30, which reveals that Sessions has hired his close friend and longtime lawyer Charles Cooper to represent him as the DOJ looks into alleged collusion between President Donald Trump’s campaign and Russian election “hacking.”
Sessions was an active member of the Trump campaign before being elevated to the position of Attorney General, and his close ties forced his recusal from the Russia probe in early March.
The reason for Sessions’ second recusal stems from Cooper’s involvement with the Coalition to Stop Internet Gambling (CSIG), as Cooper was hired by CSIG in May to lobby the DOJ. Cooper’s objective while working on behalf of CSIG was to convince the DOJ to reinstate its previous interpretation of the Wire Act.
The Wire Act of 1961 prohibits sports wagers from being placed via telephone, and was previously used as the basis for the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA) of 2006. When the DOJ released a revised opinion in late December of 2011, stating that the Wire Act applies to sports betting only – and not casino games or poker – the UIGEA’s five-year prohibition on all forms of online gambling was lifted.
This paved the way for individual states to legalize and regulate their own online gambling industries, provided they don’t involve sports betting. Thus far, Nevada, New Jersey, and Delaware have done so, quite successfully in fact, with several states across the country considering similar legislation.
Multibillionaire casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, who owns the global Las Vegas Sands empire, provided financial backing to create CSIG in March of 2014.
That same month, Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Representative Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) introduced Congressional legislation known as the Restore America’s Wire Act (RAWA) – which parroted CSIG talking points in its attempt to overturn the DOJ reversal and ban online gambling once more.
The RAWA bill failed that year, as it has every year since – much to the chagrin of Adelson and his CSIG allies.
During his Congressional confirmation hearings in January before accepting the position of Attorney General, Sessions was asked directly about his personal stance on the 2011 Wire Act reversal. A longtime opponent of gambling expansion, and especially online gambling, Sessions expressed “shock” over the decision, before offering a more diplomatic appraisal:
“I would revisit it and I would make a decision about it based on careful study, and I haven’t gone that far to give you an opinion today.”
A federal filing submitted by Cooper on June 15 of this year revealed his lobbying work for CSIG.
Cooper spoke with Bloomberg to refute allegations of impropriety:
“There’s been a change in administrations, and that’s when fresh looks take place.
This particular legal issue has certainly struck us as sufficiently questionable that it ought to be reconsidered.”
Political watchdogs and iGaming industry experts widely believed Sessions’ ascension to the DOJ’s top office would result in RAWA being revived for yet another legislative attempt.
Indeed, a June 20 report by the Competitive Enterprise Institute revealed that Representative Charlie Dent (R-PA) has added RAWA-like language banning online gambling into a 1,000-page Congressional appropriations bill.
This is a similar tactic to the one taken by Dent and Representative Bobby Rush (D-IL) in 2016, when the pair introduced HR-6453 – which also included language that closely mirrored RAWA’s original objectives.