In January, the Wall Street Journal reported that Sheldon Adelson was the main influence behind the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel’s (OLC) new opinion on the Wire Act. The new opinion said that the Wire Act makes all interstate online gambling illegal, reversing a 2011 opinion that said only online sports betting was illegal. Now, the state of New Jersey is suing the Department of Justice for answers regarding Adelson’s possible involvement in a Wire Act interpretation that could potentially have dire consequences for regulated online gambling in the country.
Any reasonable person, upon reading the Wire Act, can see that it only applies to sports betting, but for years, the DOJ said it applied to all sports betting. The opinion in late 2011 by the OLC, though, opened the door for states to legalize and regulate online gambling, including poker, and a few states have done so. The fact that the OLC, now part of the Trump administration, changed course in November (the opinion wasn’t published until January) was suspicious.
Enter the WSJ and its reporting that Adelson, a man who has said he would do “whatever it takes” to stop online gambling, was the one who got the ball rolling in the DOJ.
New Jersey Has Lost Patience
In a press release Tuesday, the New Jersey Office of the Attorney General announced that it has filed a lawsuit against the DOJ, “alleging that it has violated the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) by failing to provide answers in response to New Jersey’s demand for any documents linking DOJ’s recent crackdown on state-sanctioned online gaming to the lobbying efforts of casino magnate Sheldon Adelson.”
“Online gaming is an important part of New Jersey’s economy, and the residents of New Jersey deserve to know why the Justice Department is threatening to come after an industry we legalized years ago,” said Attorney General Gurbir Grewal in the press release. “It’s especially important that we figure out whether this federal crackdown is the result of a lobbying campaign by a single individual seeking to protect his personal business interests.”
In early February, Attorney General Grewal submitted a letter to the DOJ, protesting the Wire Act opinion, while at the same time filing a FOIA request to obtain any documentation that supports the WSJ’s story about Adelson’s influence within the Justice Department.
The DOJ confirmed receipt of the FOIA request in March and said it would be expediting the request, but New Jersey still has not received any documentation whatsoever. Expedited processing is supposed to be completed within 20 days. The New Jersey Attorney General’s Office has said that the DOJ has given no legal reasoning for its delays, nor has it proven any “unusual circumstances” that it claimed were involved with the FOIA request.
The original date for states to comply with the new Wire Act opinion was April 15th, but that was pushed to June 14th, only about five weeks from now, which is why New Jersey needed expedited processing of the FOIA request.