Despite Anti-Online Gambling History, Possible AG Pick Sessions May Be Neutral On The Issue

Attorney General Nominee Jeff Sessions’ Online Gambling Stance? The Record Paints A Mixed Picture

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The major players in the Donald Trump administration are starting to come into focus. The president-elect has begun filling key positions, and on Friday the Trump transition team announced Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions will be Trump’s nominee for the Attorney General position.

Sessions certainly has the CV for the post:

  • 1975-1981: Assistant United States attorney in the Office of the United States Attorney for the Southern District of Alabama
  • 1981-1993: U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Alabama
  • 1995-1997: Attorney general of Alabama
  • 1997-present: United States senator from Alabama

But he is not without baggage, which makes Senate confirmation far from a slam dunk.

Why the AG matters for online gambling

As I explained in this column, the attorney general could revisit the 2011 Department of Justice Office of Legal Counsel opinion that cleared the way for states to legalize online gambling within their borders.

If the incoming attorney general decides to roll back the DOJ’s current online gambling position, the progress made since the OLC opinion was issued in 2011 would be threatened.

It’s a bit more complicated than that

A DOJ rollback would open a whole new can of worms, as Nevada, Delaware, and New Jersey have already legalized online gaming, and Michigan, Illinois, Georgia, and Kentucky have legalized online lottery sales.

Lawsuits would almost certainly be filed by these states, and they’d likely be joined by other states currently exploring online expansion.

Where Sessions stands on gambling

With the exception of his first two years as a United States senator, by and large, Sessions has avoided gambling issues during his time in elected office.

As a strict social conservative, Sessions is undoubtedly against the expansion of gambling. But he’s also arguably a supporter of states’ rights, and might oppose a federal prohibition of online gambling on those grounds.

Sessions backed early online gambling prohibition efforts

Long before the Restoration of America’s Wire Act, and long before UIGEA, there was the Internet Gambling Prohibition Act of 1997. The bill would make it illegal to place wagers over the internet.

In September 1997, newly-elected Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions announced he would co-sponsor the bill.

“I am troubled by how easy it is for children to pick-up their parents’ credit cards and gamble on the Internet,” Sessions said in a statement at the time. “This legislation is an attempt to keep-up with the rapid changes taking place in cyberspace.”

The bill was amended shortly thereafter, in October of 1997, and Sessions was never officially added as a co-sponsor of the legislation.

In 1998 Sessions voted “yea” on Senate amendment 3266 to an appropriations bill. The amendment would have banned online gambling in the United States.

More recently, Sessions has been silent on the topic

But since then, Sessions has largely sidestepped online gambling.

Bottom line

If he’s confirmed, Jeff Sessions wouldn’t be the worst attorney general in terms of online gambling, but his stance on the issue could go either way. Given the opportunity to support recent high-profile efforts to ban regulated online gambling at the federal level, Sessions has declined – a clear positive for supporters of regulation.

Even with outside pressure, AG Sessions might (rightly) conclude the 2011 OLC opinion that limits the Wire Act’s scope to sports betting is correct, especially considering it would lead to a legal fight that the prohibitionists are likely to lose.

Courts have sided with the current OLC interpretation of the Wire Act, even when the DOJ opinion prohibited online gambling.

Image credit: Rob Crandall /

- 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.
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