Fresh off a similar incident that has been appealed to the Kentucky Supreme Court, the Minnesota Department of Public Safety has notified internet service providers (ISPs) that they must prevent access by the state’s residents to 200 internet gambling sites.
The total number of sites to be blocked currently stands at 200. However, at press time, the affected domain names are not yet known. According to the internet gaming press release, Written notice was given by the Minnesota Department of Public Safety’s Alcohol and Gambling Enforcement Division to AT&T, Charter, Comcast, Direct TV, Dish Network, Embarq, Sprint, Frontier Communications, Qwest, Verizon, and Wildblue Communications. John Willems, Director of the Division, commented in a press release distributed on Wednesday, “We are putting site operators and Minnesota online gamblers on notice and in advance. Disruption of these sites’ cash flow will negatively impact their business models. State residents with online escrow accounts should be aware that access to their accounts may be jeopardized and their funds in peril.”
The press release cites the Wire Act of 1961 and overtly charges, “Online gambling is illegal in all U.S. states.” The Interactive Media Entertainment and Gaming Association (iMEGA) has already dispatched a legal team specializing in First Amendment rights to Minnesota to combat the Department of Public Safety. Its Chairman, Joe Brennan, told Poker News Daily, “I’m somewhat troubled by the shaky legal premise on which Minnesota has based this order. They are asserting that there is some blanket Federal prohibition against gambling on the internet, when in fact none exists. In a similar fashion to Kentucky, you have the aggressor citing assertions that are not supported by the laws that are on the books.”
The letters to ISPs were delivered on Monday. The companies have “two to three” weeks to respond. Then, the Department of Public Safety has pledged to take the complaint to the Federal Communications Commission. In addition to the 200 sites whose access may be at risk in the immediate future, the Division expects further expansion: “Willems anticipates the program expanding to address thousands of sites, depending on compliance.” In Kentucky, a total of 141 domain names are in limbo as part of a forfeiture hearing that may be heard by the Kentucky Supreme Court. In Minnesota, no such seizure occurred. Instead, the Department of Public Safety is merely seeking that ISPs block access. Internet gambling is identified specifically.
In addition to their websites being inaccessible, the Department of Public Safety is also calling for the 200 companies’ phone numbers to be blocked. It explained, “For more than two decades, telecoms have shut down telephone numbers at the request of law enforcement agencies when believed to be involved in illegal activities, such as sports book-making telephone numbers.” iMEGA and the 1.2 million member strong Poker Players Alliance (PPA) are among those seeking to prevent the blockage from becoming a reality. In Kentucky, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Bluegrass Institute rallied behind the internet gambling industry. In January, the Kentucky Court of Appeals in Louisville overturned a lower court ruling that upheld the seizure order by a two to one margin. The Commonwealth, led by Justice and Public Safety Cabinet J. Michael Brown, immediately appealed.
Matt Werden, the PPA’s State Director for Minnesota, commented in a press release on Wednesday, “This isn’t simply a heavy-handed tactic by the government; this is a clear misrepresentation of Federal law, as well as Minnesota law, used in an unprecedented way to try and censor the Internet. I don’t know what U.S. Code they’re reading, but it is not illegal to play this great American pastime online and we’re calling their bluff.”
Grover Norquist, President of the Americans for Tax Reform, added, “This is nanny-statism at its worst – the government barging into a private matter because people are supposedly too stupid to make decisions and take care of themselves. Individual liberty should not be supplanted by the whims of politicians looking to soak even more money from an over-taxed, over-regulated population while feigning concern over safety issues.” Brennan told Poker News Daily that early speculation revealed that pressure from Indian casinos may be behind the move, although this was not verified. PokerXFactor.com instructor and Minnesota resident Chris “Fox” Wallace speculated that fledgling legal card rooms at racetracks may be to blame.
Willems admitted to the Minneapolis Star Tribune that he did not know how many Minnesota residents gambled online nor provided an estimate. Instead, he stated that he has had gamblers claim they lost $200,000 and needed to borrow money. The Department of Public Safety’s press releases closes by asserting that the internet gambling industry may provide “funding for criminal and terrorist organizations.”
A call placed to press release author Dennis Smith of the Minnesota Department of Public Safety was not returned as of press time. Stay tuned to Poker News Daily for the latest on this developing story.