He was narrowly confirmed, by a 52-47 vote. (Sessions is a sitting senator from Alabama and therefore not eligible to vote). Just a single Democrat, Sen. Joe Manchin from West Virginia, voted in favor of Sessions.
“It was a special night,” Sessions said after his confirmation. “I appreciate the friendship from my colleagues — even those who, many of them who didn’t feel able to vote for me. They were cordial, and so we continue to have good relations and will continue to do the best I can.”
Before diving into Sessions’ record and recent comments on gambling, here is a brief overview of his path to the office.
Most considered Sessions’ confirmation almost a foregone conclusion; he is a part of the majority party in the Senate. However, the Sessions vote was a long time in the making.
Because Sessions was a sitting member of the Senate, the chamber’s leaders delayed his confirmation vote. That allowed him to stay in the Senate, in order to give Sessions the opportunity to vote for Betsey DeVos as Secretary of Education. DeVos needed every vote; the final tally was 50-50. Vice President Mike Pence cast a historic tie-breaking vote.
With DeVos confirmed, it was Sessions’ turn to come into the crosshairs of Democrats who questioned his qualifications for the job based on a controversial record. That included the Senate shooting down Sessions during a confirmation process to become a federal judge in 1986.
We detailed Sessions’ history with gaming policy when President Donald Trump first nominated him.
During Sessions’ confirmation hearing, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) asked him for his thoughts on the 2011 Department of Justice Office of Legal Counsel opinion that limited the scope of the 1961 Wire Act to sports betting. That opinion opened the door for states to legalize online gambling — everything from lottery to casino games — within their borders.
Sessions’ answer during the hearing — that he was “shocked” by the ruling — rankled supporters of legal, regulated online gaming.
But, as some analysts have noted, the rest of his answer seems more like standard political-speak that allows a nominee to keep his or her options open, rather than a pledge to overturn the standing policy:
“I did oppose [the 2011 DOJ opinion] when it happened, and it seemed to me to be unusual.”
“I would revisit it or make a decision about it based on careful study.”
Sessions hasn’t cosponsored any of the recent Restoration of America’s Wire Act (RAWA) bills Graham introduced in the Senate. That probably means the issue isn’t really on his radar.
Basically, Sessions’ “shock” likely has more to do with his long-held belief that the executive branch during the Obama administration was overstepping its authority.
In their recently released US iGaming Industry Update, Eilers & Krejcik Gaming analysts Chris Grove and Adam Krejcik concluded federal action to be unlikely. That’s despite the new administration, the Senate, House of Representatives, and White House all in Republican hands, and the likely confirmation of Sessions:
“The federal outlook for regulated online gambling involves a great deal of uncertainty. But we believe that, in more worlds than not, regulated online gambling will not be a topic the federal government takes meaningful action on during the next four years.”
Grove and Krejcik also called the potential influence of casino magnate Sheldon Adelson within the Trump administration “overstated.” They noted that Adelson’s support of Trump was at best tepid, and it came very late in the election cycle. You might also recall comments by Trump at his pre-inauguration dinner where he chided late-breaking donors.