Senators Graham and Feinstein Call for Online Gambling Ban

Lindsey Graham Dianne Feinstein Online Gambling Letter

Lindsey Graham (pictured) and Dianne Feinstein seemed to conflate licensed online gambling sites with unlicensed operators.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R) and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D) signed a joint letter to the U.S. Department of Justice on Nov. 21, calling on Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to reconsider a 2011 DoJ opinion on online casinos and poker sites.

The letter addresses the Eric Holder-era Justice Department’s chance of opinion on whether online casinos and card rooms were included in the UIGEA ban on online gambling. Graham and Feinstein urged the nation’s top law enforcement department to reinstitute a federal ban on both types of gambling sites.

For the past three years, Senator Lindsey Graham has tried unsuccessfully to push Restore America’s Wire Act through the US Congress. The RAWA legislation was a dismal failure in the legislative branch of the US government, so Sen. Graham now seeks to undermine state-sanctions online gambling with a single act of the executive branch.

Poker Players Alliance Finds Letter

The Poker Players Alliance learned about the Nov. 21 letter on November 27, then posted it on social media to alert America’s gaming community that legal and licensed online gambling might be in danger once again. Whether the PPA and its political allies can influence Rod Rosenstein is another matter, though many conservatives are concerned about a federal ban on online gambling.

In the Nov. 21 letter, Feinstein and Graham said, “The DOJ opinion had the practical effect of repealing legislation Congress carefully and thoughtfully enacted in 2006 to ban Internet gambling — legislation developed over seven years and crafted based on assurances from DOJ at that time that Internet gambling was barred by the Wire Axct and other federal criminal laws.”

2006 Passage of UIGEA

That portion of the letter references the 2006 Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA). After UIGEA failed to gain support from the wider Congress, the federal ban on online gambling was attached to the Safe Port Act in committee. The Safe Port Act was the bill which banned foreign countries (like Dubai) from administering US ports, so few politicians would vote against a bill seen as patriotic.

The UIGEA stated that all forms of gambling that were banned (for telephone lines) under the 1961 Wire Act would be banned from the Internet. The Wire Act was designed to prosecute organized crime and illegal bookmakers from transmitting sports bets across state lines over the telephone wires. Over the years, the Wire Act was used to prosecute many mobsters and other organized crime members. The Bush Era Justice Department regarded the ban on sports betting to include poker and casino betting.

2011 DOJ Opinion on Online Gambling

Under the 2011 DOJ opinion, the Department of Justice ruled that the Wire Act did not ban casino gambling and card games. No one in 1961 was transmitting poker, blackjack, or roulette results over the phone lines, so it made no sense to the Justice Department lawyers in 2011 that the Wire Act banned casino bets or poker games. Consequently, it was hard to argue that the UIGEA banned online casinos and card sites, because the Wire Act did not ban them. In fact, the Wire Act specifically named “sports betting”, but no other form of gambling.

Lindsey Graham’s and Dianne Feinstein’s letter stated, “We warned that the (2011) DOJ opinion ‘could usher in the most fundamental change in gambling in our lifetime, by turning every smartphone, tablet, and personal computer into a casino available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.'”

Turning Computers into Casinos?

The suggestion that legal online gambling turns computers into casinos is an oft-repeated phrase by fearmongers trying to pass a federal ban on computer gambling. That logic was challenged successfully in a series of congressional hearings from 2014 to 2016, as advocates of legal online gambling proved that licensed online gambling sites in New Jersey, Nevada, and Delaware could police unlawful gambling with geolocation software — the same GPS technology which people use in their cars and smartphones. Since most people these days are familiar with GPS technology, Lindsey Graham’s suggestion that legal online gambling in New Jersey somehow put South Carolina residents in danger did not carry weight.

Now, Lindsey Graham is trying the same argument on Rod Rosenstein. Despite years of failure to pass new laws in the US Congress, it might work this time. The alliance between Graham and Feinstein represents one of the biggest threats to legal online gambing in the United States in the past 6 years, because Feinstein’s supports gives a federal ban on iGaming the sheer of bipartisanship. The letter also reaches sympathetic ears, because AG Jeff Sessions and DAG Rod Rosenstein are both notable champions of a federal ban on online gambling.

Jeff Sessions ‘Shocked’ by 2011 Opinion

In his Senate confirmation hearings to be US attorney general, then-Senator Jeff Sessions claimed to be “shocked” when the Department of Justice rendered the 2011 opinion which legalized online casinos and poker sites at the federal level. During his time as a US attorney for Maryland, Rod Rosenstein was arguably the most remorseless opponent of online gambling among the Department of Justice’s list of US attorneys (even more so than Preet Bharara).

Graham and Feinstein noted that Nevada, Delaware, and New Jersey have an interstate poker compact. They also noted that Pennsylvania recently legalized online poker, so it might join the same poker compact. The two senators referenced the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement’s long negotiations with the United Kingdom to arrange a poker liquidity sharing agreement.

Why Licensed Online Gambling Is Safer?

As always, politicians who want to ban legal online gambling miss the very point. Licensed online gambling means regulations are imposed on operators, including consumer protections, self-exclusion tools, responsible gaming measures, and helplines. Geolocation software is required, so a site only can sign up players from a region where online gaming is legal. Age verification software is required, along with special codes to assure transparency in online poker and casino gaming.

Licensed online gambling provides protections for gamblers, while undermining the profits of illegal/unlicensed gambling sites. US citizens would prefer to play at the brand name, licensed sites. When a ban on online gambling is in place, it does not stop Americans from gambling. Instead, it drives their activities underground, where both adult and underage Americans are less-protected.

Online Betting in the Dark

Where publicly-traded corporations operate in a licensed casino market, it is private and unaccountable groups which operate in the unlicensed casino market. Thus, Lindsey Graham and Dianne Feinstein are calling for the very measures that are going to the “money laundering and ventures by transnational organized crime groups” that the two senators fear will prosper from online gambling.

Beyond that, a federal ban on online gambling is a thoroughly liberal act. One might expect Dianne Feinstein, a California liberal, to support such a ban (though Democrats tend to support legal online gambling). Coming from a South Carolina conservative, it is strange to find Lindsey Graham calling for a vast expansion of federal authority. As Sen. Rand Paul, ex-Rep. Ron Paul, and GOP tax activist Grover Norquist have pointed out in previous RAWA debates, if the government can impose its will on states over online gambling, it can use the same authority to impose its will over a wide variety of other state’s rights issues.

Those who want to see the full transcript of Lindsey Graham’s and Dianne Feinstein’s letter to Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein can click on the link to PPA Vice President Rich Muny‘s twitter feed, which shows the Nov. 21 letter.