One Out Of Every Five AGs Supports Rollback Of 2011 DOJ Opinion On Wire Act
Online Poker Report

Guess Who’s Back? Anti-Online Gambling Proponents Make Appeal To Trump Transition Team

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On November 17, ten state attorneys general signed a letter addressed to Vice President-Elect Mike Pence and the entire Trump transition team. The topic at hand: online gambling.

More specifically, the letter asks the government to rollback a 2011 Department of Justice Office of Legal Counsel opinion that determined the 1961 Wire Act only applied to sports betting and not to other forms of online gambling.

The letter was brought to light on Friday evening by the Poker Players Alliance.

Bombastic rhetoric, misinformation fills pages

The letter states:

“In the dark of night on Christmas 2011, the Obama administration overruled 50 years of practice and precedent when a Department of Justice (DOJ) Office of Legal Counsel opinion claimed the Wire Act only applied to sports betting,”

There are several dubious claims in just this single sentence:

  • First, the opinion by the OLC was issued in September (it says right on the letter, Sept. 20, 2011), not on Christmas.
  • The opinion overruled nine years of precedent, not 50. It wasn’t until 2002 that the DOJ interpreted the Wire Act as applying to all forms of online gambling. Neither the 2002 or 2011 opinion changed the Wire Act, only how it’s interpreted.
  • The OLC review was the result of a request by Illinois and New York, with the two states seeking clarity on whether they could sell lottery tickets online.

In addition to the OLC, courts have reached the same conclusion.

As I wrote here in 2015:

“The 2002 DOJ interpretation was overruled in federal court several times, and legal analysts have questioned the opinion’s validity since it was offered, particularly the expansion of the Wire Act not just to the Internet, but beyond sports betting.”

The letter uses the typical bombastic language we’ve come to expect from the anti-online gambling crowd, including fears of rampant underage gambling and the proliferation of criminal activity.

Notably, in the three states with legal online gambling , and the four states with legal online lottery, none of these doomsday scenarios have come to fruition.

In fact, data suggests online sites are much better on these fronts than land-based casinos, and experts have concluded that it’s incredibly difficult to launder money in a regulated online setting.

Who signed on?

The 10 signatories on the aforementioned letter are:

  1. Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry
  2. Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette
  3. Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson
  4. Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt
  5. North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem
  6. Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt
  7. South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson
  8. South Dakota Attorney General Marty Jackley
  9. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton
  10. Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes

Of these, six actively endorsed the Restoration of America’s Wire Act (RAWA) in 2015.

Not the first letter of its kind

This is far from the first letter of this type.

Similar letters were sent in each of the last two years, and letters opposing online gambling date back to 2007.

That year, 43 attorneys general sent a letter of opposition to Congress expressing their concern for a bill introduced by Massachusetts Representative Barney Frank to legalize online gambling.

The new attorneys general letters reappeared when the RAWA bills began to be introduced, but they’ve garnered only a fraction of the support the original 2007 letter was able to procure.

In 2014, 16 attorneys general (including the Attorney General of Guam) called for a federal online gambling ban. In 2015, the number of attorneys general supporting a federal online gambling ban dropped to just eight.

Attorneys general support through the years:

  • 2007 letter opposing federal legalization efforts: 86 percent (43 out of 50)
  • 2014 letter calling on Congress to prohibit online gambling: 30 percent (15 out of 50 + Guam)
  • 2015 letter calling on Congress to prohibit online gambling: 16 percent (eight out of 50)
  • 2016 letter calling on Congress to prohibit online gambling: 20 percent (10 out of 50)

Upshot

The letter is certainly not a positive sign.

But with only 20 percent of the attorneys general in the United States signing on to the letter, and with support still well below what it was in 2014, it’s not something online gambling advocates need to wring their hands over.

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Steve Ruddock
- Steve covers nearly every angle of online poker in his job as a full-time freelance poker writer. His primary focus for OPR is the developing legal and legislative picture for regulated US online poker and gambling.