Already in preparation for taking office on January 20, Vice President-Elect Mike Pence has quite a bit on his plate. That isn’t stopping a group of state Attorneys General from lobbying on their behalf for a federal ban on online gaming and/or poker in either the current “lame duck” session or once the VP becomes part of the Executive Branch.
The letter, sent on November 17 to the Vice President-Elect and the transition team, asked for the “restoration of the Wire Act’s protections” and a return to the stance that online gaming and poker is illegal in the States of America. “Since 1961, the Wire Act…has prohibited all gambling involving interstate wire transmissions,” the letter states. “The Obama Administration overruled 50 years of practice and precedent when a Department of Justice Office of Legal Counsel opinion claimed the Wire Act only applied to sports betting and not to other types of online gambling. Dismantling the Wire Act undermined state online gambling prohibitions. Without a federal prohibition, (DOJ) opened the door to expansive internet gambling and exposed states to the significant negative impacts that often accompany online gambling.”
The incident in question is the 2011 decision by the Department of Justice – not the Obama Administration – on a request from the states of Illinois and New York. In that request, both states were asking for clarification of the Wire Act so that the states could offer online lottery ticket sales, not any other form of online gaming. The DOJ ruled at that time – and it has since been interpreted that it would allow for casino gaming and poker – that the only thing the Wire Act of 1961 applied to was sports betting.
The 10 Attorneys General go on to discuss some of the “risks” associated with the activity. Underage gambling is particularly pointed out (along with some trumped up evidence of gambling being a gateway to divorce, domestic violence, child abuse and suicide), but the alleged threats to those who take part in online gaming and poker is also analyzed. “Online gamblers are vulnerable to fraud and identity theft…some online sites have been found to use forced labor to ‘farm currency’…(and) the sites themselves are vulnerable to hacking,” the AGs state.
“State officials have worked diligently to lobby Congress to overturn the DOJ interpretation, but they need your help,” the 10 men plead in their conclusion. “The 2011 DOJ opinion ignored the rule of law, reversed the DOJ’s previous longstanding interpretations and allowed arbitrary decision of individual government officials to create law. Instead, any changes to the Wire Act and its provisions should have been given fair and full debate before the Congress, with whom the American people have vested the power to create the laws of the land.”
These ten Attorneys General signed the letter:
Jeff Landry (R-Louisiana)
Bill Schuette (R-Michigan)
Douglas J. Peterson (R-Nebraska)
Adam Laxalt (R-Nevada)
Wayne Stenehjem (R-North Dakota)
E. Scott Pruitt (R-Oklahoma)
Alan Wilson (R-South Carolina)
Marty Jackley (R-South Dakota)
Ken Paxton (R-Texas)
Sean Reyes (R-Utah)
Some of the names on the list aren’t surprising. Reyes of Utah already has banned online gaming in the state and Paxton in Texas is continuing in that odd tradition that the home of one of the most popular card games in the world is against poker. Two of the signees of the letter stand out, however: Schuette of Michigan, where online gaming regulations were set for a vote potentially next week, and Laxalt of Nevada, a state that already HAS online poker in action.
Laxalt’s move has in particularly irritated his bosses in the Silver State. Vegas independent reporter Jon Ralston was able to get a spokesperson for Governor Brian Sandoval, Mari St. Martin, to admit that Sandoval “doesn’t support” Laxalt’s move. Furthermore, A. G. Burnett, the chair of the Nevada Gaming Control Board, has stated firmly that “internet gaming in Nevada has been a complete regulatory success.”
The call for action has already gone out from the Poker Players Alliance, who is depending on their internet pounding over social media to sway legislators on the subject. They may be able to postpone the “lame duck” maneuverings by those that support the current bills in the House and Senate – oddly enough both titled “The Restoration of America’s Wire Act of 2016” or RAWA (and allegedly both written by anti-online gaming lobbyists fronting for billionaire casino owner Sheldon Adelson) – but the clouds could be forming. Although the GOP did not have a plank in their platform for the 2016 General Election against online gaming (as they did in the two previous campaigns), they now have the power of both the Executive and Legislative branches, enough to force through anything they desire. While it is calm now, the battle could begin as soon as next week when Congress continues the “lame duck” session.