Sensenbrenner, colleagues still beating a tired drum

Another Member Of Congress, Another Terrible Argument To Ban Online Gambling

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Here we go again.

Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) is the latest member of the U.S. Congress to wade into the online gambling debate. And like many who came before him, his claims seem detached from reality.

In a letter sent Thursday to the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), Sensenbrenner asked the agency to weigh in on the issue of sports betting and the connected issue of online gambling. The congressman makes his own opinions on the matter quite clear.

According to Sensenbrenner:

“… during the hearing we heard testimony that a significant portion of sports betting is projected to occur over the Internet on mobile devices. Such wagering — combined with the issuance of an opinion by the previous administration’s Office of Legal Counsel reinterpreting the Wire Act — will allow for exploitation of Internet gambling by criminal and terrorist organizations to obtain funds, launder money, and engage in identity theft and other cybercrimes.”

There is a serious problem with these comments. They’re simply not accurate.

Are we really doing this – again? 

Sensenbrenner’s attempt to tie organized crime and terrorism to online gambling is nothing new. He’s reading from the same playbook developed by the Sheldon Adelson-backed Coalition to Stop Internet Gambling (CSIG) that so many have referenced.

Since CSIG burst onto the scene in 2014, two people have acted as the group’s pointmen in Congress — Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and former Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT). Both repeatedly pushed for legislation (the Restoration of America’s Wire Act) and when those efforts failed, they pivoted to request the DOJ reverse the 2011 OLC opinion.

Several others aside from Sensenbrenner have echoed the Graham/Chaffetz rhetoric, including but not limited to:

  • In July 2017, Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) wrote to then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions expressing his support for a federal online gambling ban.
  • In November 2017, Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Graham, two longtime online gambling opponents, sent a similar letter to the DOJ, filled with the same tired reasoning.
  • In December 2017, four members of the House of Representatives, Daniel Donovan (R-NY), Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA), Tom Garrett (R-VA), and Louie Gohmert (R-TX) joined the cause, asking the DOJ to reverse the 2011 OLC opinion.

It’s not true from any point of view

The notion that organized crime and terrorists will use internet gambling to launder money is a mischaracterization of an old FBI letter, which stemmed from a Congressional request about the potential dangers.

This letter is often framed as a warning, but it’s nothing of the sort.

While the FBI stated that money laundering through online gambling sites is possible — nothing is impossible — it added that the threat is preventable and detectable. The letter never mentions terrorists or terrorism, and the FBI has never linked online gambling to either.

No one has ever provided proof of links between the two. Even a congressional task force on terror financing chaired by online gambling opponent Michael Fitzpatrick never once mentions a connection.

This is nothing more than fear mongering from Sensenbrenner.

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The OLC opinion isn’t controversial

There’s also the matter of the “controversial” OLC opinion that every online gambling opponent likes to call an overreach by the DOJ.

The opinion is simply a case of the OLC doing its job.

It stemmed from a request by the New York Lottery and the Illinois Governor’s office regarding online lottery sales. Rather than reinterpreting the Wire Act, the OLC simply offered its legal opinion on a matter that never possessed clarity.

The only other interpretation was an ambiguous 2002 opinion by the DOJ, which courts overruled on multiple occasions (In re Mastercard International Inc., 2002, United States Court of Appeals, 5th Circuit; U.S. v. Lyons, 2014, United States Court of Appeals, 1st Circuit). That previous stance was widely criticized by legal analysts, like this one and this one, too.

As explained before, restoring the Wire Act is a misnomer. What Sensenbrenner and others want is to revert to the dubious 2002 opinion they like by rolling back the legally valid one from 2011 they don’t.

The DOJ has bigger fish to fry

These efforts have gained little traction to date, and there’s no reason to believe that Sensenbrenner’s words will change that.

Furthermore, the letter to the DOJ comes at a time of turmoil within the department following the forced resignation of Sessions — who is no friend of online gambling — and the controversial appointment of acting AG Matthew Whittaker.

With so much swirling, addressing this relatively minor issue would be utterly tone deaf.

Also, intervention would almost certainly spark legal action from any number of states which have already legalized online gambling, online lottery and/or online sports betting.

- 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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