Online Gambling Opponents Eye A New Tack, Via Incoming Attorney General Sessions

January 11, 2017
Online Gambling Opponents Eye A New Tack, Via Incoming Attorney General Sessions

A handful of lawmakers in Washington, DC, have continued to push to make online gambling illegal in the US, albeit unsuccessfully.

Now, however, the effort to stop or roll back iGaming expansion is hoping it has a friendly ear. That might come in the form of the nominee for US attorney general, Sen. Jeff Sessions.

Sessions took a question about online gambling in his confirmation hearing on Tuesday in the Senate. Whether Sessions becomes an ally of the interests that want to stop legal online gambling in the United States remains to be seen.

What Sessions said about online gambling

Sen. Lindsey Graham — a champion against online gambling in the US — asked Sessions about the topic. Graham has long been a supporter of the Restoration of America’s Wire Act. That effort has consistently failed to date. Past iterations of the bill would update the Wire Act to make online gambling illegal. (Currently, online gambling is legal only in New Jersey, Nevada and Delaware.)

That legislation intends to circumvent a 2011 memo from the Department of Justice. That memo opines that the Wire Act applies only to sports betting. That memo, obviously, comes out of the department headed by the AG. It would be within Sessions’ purview to examine it.

Here is the interaction between Graham and Sessions:

Graham: About the Wire Act, what’s your view of the Obama administration’s interpretation of the Wire Act, to allow  online video poker, gambling?

Sessions: Senator, I was shocked at the memorandum, I guess the enforcement memorandum, that the Department of Justice issued, with regard to the Wire Act, and criticized it. Apparently there is some justification or argument that can be made to support the Department of Justice’s position. But I did oppose it when it happened, and it seemed to me to be unusual…

Graham: Would you revisit it?

Sessions: I would revisit it, and I would make a decision about it based on careful study, and I haven’t gone that far, to give you an opinion today.

You can see the full testimony here (about the 1:55:30 mark).

Parsing what Sessions said

The takes after Sessions mentioned online gambling have run the gamut.

Those who follow the gambling space sounded alarm bells as soon as Sessions said he might revisit the DOJ memo. But Sessions certainly wasn’t making a promise to issue a new memo on the Wire Act. Given the breadth of tasks handed to the AG’s office, it’s unlikely to be one of his top priorities. In reality, he was merely responding to a question from Graham on one of his pet projects.

To wit:

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PPA responds

The Poker Players Alliance sprang to action after the Sessions comments, as well. John Pappas, Executive Director of the PPA, issued the following statement (excerpts; full thing here):

“In 2006, a Republican Congress and a Republican President passed and signed into law a bill that allowed states to regulate online gaming. This language was reaffirmed by the Department of Justice (DOJ) in 2011 and empowered individual states to pursue policies that best served their citizens.

“A reversal of this decision would be a radical departure from the precedent given to the independent and legally based opinions generated by DOJ’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC). We appreciate nominee Sessions’ pledge to give the issue ‘careful study,’ and we also have no doubt that such careful study will reaffirm what OLC, the courts and Congress already agree on: the Wire Act is limited to sports betting and states may regulate other forms of internet gaming.

“We also trust that he adheres to the longstanding practice of giving ‘great weight to any relevant past opinions’ when he reviews OLC’s 2011 position with regard to the Wire Act. The precedent of giving weight to prior OLC decisions is something both the Bush and Obama administrations advised in published ‘Best Practices’ memorandums.

Whether Sessions’ comments are truly concerning is obviously up for debate. If nothing else, yesterday was a reminder that its important for proponents of online gambling to be vigilant against attempts to hinder its progress.

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