Rep. Fitzpatrick wants DOJ to declare online gambling illegal

PA Congressman Pushing For Federal Online Gambling Ban Is Wasting Taxpayer Time And Money

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Another effort to ban online gambling at the federal level in the US is coming from a Pennsylvania lawmaker.

Pennsylvania Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick ran for and won his older brother’s Congressional seat in 2016. The seat was up for grabs after the elder Fitzpatrick, Michael, honored a self-imposed four-term limit on his service and retired.

This is Brian’s first stint as an elected official, so his policies haven’t been fully fleshed out yet. That said, the brothers Fitzpatrick see eye-to-eye on at least one issue, the need to ban online gambling.

Michael Fitzpatrick’s parting ‘gift’

In December 2016, on his way out the Congressional door, Michael Fitzpatrick introduced a House resolution that would have undone a 2011 Department of Justice Office of Legal Counsel memo that rightly concluded the 1961 Wire Act‘s scope was limited to sports betting:

“This bill declares that the Memorandum Opinion for the Assistant Attorney General for the Criminal Division of the Department of Justice (dated September 20, 2011) shall have no force or effect for purposes of interpreting the definition of “unlawful Internet gambling” under current federal law. (The memorandum opinion concluded that state proposals to use the Internet and out-of-state vendors to sell lottery tickets to in-state adults did not constitute unlawful Internet gambling.)”

Interestingly, despite leading a multi-year task force looking into the use of the internet by terrorists, Michael Fitzpatrick was unable to connect online gambling to money laundering by terrorist organizations (one of the anti-online gambling crowds favorite bogeyman arguments)… because no link exists.

Like brother, like brother on online gambling

Like his older brother, Brian Fitzpatrick also wants the DoJ to universally ban online gambling. That would take away Pennsylvania’s ability to choose what is best for the state and its residents. The state has been considering legalization of iGaming.

According to, Fitzpatrick is currently crafting a letter asking the DoJ to revisit the issue and, “unilaterally declare state [online gaming] efforts illegal.”

Reason links Fitzpatrick’s impending letter to Republican mega-donor Sheldon Adelson. That should come as no surprise. Adelson’s Sands Bethlehem Casino neighbors Fitzpatrick’s Congressional district.

“The issue is a fixation of GOP megadonor Sheldon Adelson, whose bricks-and-mortar Las Vegas casinos are threatened by competition from online gambling,” Reason writes, adding that Fitzpatrick’s proposed letter would, “allow Adelson’s army to sidestep the pesky legislative process altogether and unilaterally declare state efforts illegal.”

An online gambling ban would hurt Pennsylvanians

An online gambling ban would have two negative consequences for Pennsylvanians.

Loss of revenue will lead to a tax hike

Facing a budget shortfall, the Pennsylvania legislature is currently considering legalizing online poker, casino games and lottery.

According to estimates, online poker and casino will bring in $400 million over the next five years.

The alternative would be tax increases, or increased borrowing that would simply put the state further in the hole and leave lawmakers with an even bigger gap to fill in the coming years.

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 A ban doesn’t eradicate online gambling

Pennsylvanians already gamble online. They do this on black-market sites.

All an online gambling ban does is guarantee the existence of these black-market sites. That leaves Pennsylvanians with no alternative but to cross their fingers and hope that sites don’t swindle them.

That means:

  • A lack of consumer protections
  • No responsible gaming policies
  • No proper age or identity verification

A federal online gambling ban would leave Pennsylvanians at the mercy of the historically shady offshore online gambling market.

From the insider cheating scandals at Absolute Poker and Ultimate Bet to the failed Lock Poker and Everleaf, the list of failed online gambling sites that disappeared owing players money is in the dozens. Fitzpatrick’s proposed ban would all but ensure this storied tradition of stealing player funds continues.

Bottom line on an online gambling ban

Pennsylvanians didn’t elect Brian Fitzpatrick to circumvent the Pennsylvania legislature’s authority.

Nor did they elect him to pursue a fool’s errand in order to curry favor with a particular casino mogul who happens to be one of the biggest political donors in the country.

Rep. Fitzpatrick should stop wasting taxpayers’ time and money, and get to work on the real problems that are plaguing Pennsylvania and the United States.

- 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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