Blanche Lincoln Calls for Justice Department to Ban Online Gambling

Jeff Sessions Online Gambling Laws

Jeff Sessions recused himself from online gambling decisions, because he hired an Adelson lobbyist.

Former U.S. Senator Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas penned an op-ed article this week calling for U.S. Department of Justice to reverse a 2011 DOJ opinion on online gambling. The historic 2011 opinion opened the door for online casinos and poker sites to be legalized by state governments.

Last year, Jeff Sessions recused himself from any DOJ decisions on online gambling policy when it was learned he had hired a lobbyist for Sheldon Adelson, the chief advocate of a 50-state federal ban on online gambling. The decision would fall to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who was no ally of online gambling during his time as a US Attorney in Baltimore.

Rosenstein might not be the key decision maker, though. He could select one of the US’s twelve assistant attorney generals to write an opinion. At least in the case of the controversial 2011 opinion, that was the case. Seven years ago, U.S. Assistant Attorney General Virginia Seitz released an opinion on the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA) that kept online sports betting illegal, but allowed online casinos and cardrooms to operate legally, if individual US states legalized those forms of gambling inside their own borders.

The decision opened the door for New Jersey, Delaware, and Nevada to legalize online gaming in 2013. Last year, Pennsylvania became the fourth US state to legalize online gambling. More are expected to follow suit in the coming years.

Blanche Lincoln’s Anti-Online Gambling Op-Ed

In her opinion piece, Blanche Lincoln wrote an open letter to the Department of Justice, stating, “That decision not only defied decades of legal precedent and circumvented Congress, it deprived minors and addicts of protection from the industry’s predatory practices. A single opinion emerged as the entire legal basis behind the expansion of US online gambling.”

Seitz’s opinion was rendered because the state attorney generals of Illinois and New York wrote U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, asking for an opinion on the UIGEA. From the time the UIGEA went into effect on December 31, 2006 until Seitz’s opinion was published in late-2011, the Bush and Obama administrations banned online casinos, sportsbooks, and poker sites.

What the 1961 Wire Act Says

The decision pivoted on a passage of the UIGEA which stated that any forms of gambling which were illegal (for interstate telephone lines) under the 1961 Wire Act would be illegal (for the Internet) under the UIGEA. The 1961 Wire Act made specific mention that interstate sports betting was illegal, because people made sports bets to bookie over the phone lines.

The Wire Act made no mention of interstate poker bets or casino game bets over the phone lines, because it was impossible to make such bets over the phone. No one played poker across states lines in 1961. People couldn’t make blackjack bets or roulette bets or play the slots on the phone lines, so the 1961 Wire Act did not cover those forms of gambling.

Interpretation of 2006 UIGEA

When asked in 2011, Assistant AG Virginia Seitz made the logical call and said the UIGEA did not ban online poker or casino gaming, because the Wire Act never banned those forms of gambling over the phone lines. Thus, Blanche Lincoln’s opinion piece this week mischaracterized the history of the Wire Act when she said the 2011 opinion “defied decades of legal precedent”.

Of course, those are talking points used to make a political point. It hardly matters what the law stated for several decades; it only matters what the DOJ’s current opinion on the matter is. Which is why online casino gaming and poker betting is put at risk by Sen. Lincoln’s open letter to Jeff Sessions.

American online gamblers might think online gambling is safe from interference by officials in Washington D.C., but that is not the case at all. In many ways, the various forms of online gaming might be in a more precarious situation than it has ever been.

Blanche Lincoln Criticizes Gambling Industry

Former Senator Blanche Lincoln engaged in scaremongering to make her point. She wrote, “Given the industry’s relentless marketing schemes, it is no surprise that the UK’s gambling regulator found in 2017 that around 370,000 children and young people were gambling every week. The DOJ can prevent America’s kids from visiting online casinos…by revisiting its 2011 opinion as soon as possible.”

Former US Rep. Ron Paul is indicative of the traditional conservatives who think Restore America’s Wire Act is bad law. Back in January 2018, Ron Paul wrote, “Online gambling has no impact on other states. Technology prevents residents from restrictive states … from gambling on the sites of more permissive states like New Jersey, yet members of Congress have repeatedly set out to dictate how states can govern.

Jeff Sessions’ Stance on Online Gambling

Attorney General Jeff Sessions is on record saying he was “shocked” by the 2011 Department of Justice opinion which changed the way the UIGEA was enforced. Sessions also is believed to be in the camp that opposes online gambling, though Sessions never signed on to Sheldon Adelon’s Restore America’s Wire Act (RAWA) bill which would have banned all forms of online gambling in 50 states.

With a word, Jeff Sessions could ban online gambling in 50 states. The legalization of iGaming was done through a DOJ opinion, which means it can be undone in the same way.

Will Jeff Sessions Ban Online Gambling?

The question is whether Jeff Sessions will choose to do so. Congressmen in four U.S. states — Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Nevada, and Delaware — would take up the issue, because such a decision would cost those states hundreds of millions of dollars a year. Other states would be affected, too.

For instance, several US states (Georgia, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Pennsylvania) have legalized online lottery sales. If Sessions ruled differently, their online lotto sales might be in jeopardy. Several states have legalized intrastate (one-state) sports betting apps, such as Mississippi and New Jersey, so those tax revenues might be in jeopardy.

In short, a wide coalition of states — red states and blue states — would be adversely affected by a new opinion from the DOJ. Many conservatives also viewed the original RAWA debates in the US Congress from a “states rights” perspective. They opposed Sheldon Adelson’s RAWA bill, because they thought it gave the federal government too much power.

States Rights and DOJ Standards

That might normally be Jeff Sessions’ stance, too, but people tend to have much different attitudes when they are the ones wielding power. Sessions would not be the first conservative to take a different stance once in office, whether it’s on states rights, the US national debt, or the powers of the presidency.

At the same time, AG Jeff Sessions has shown to be an institutionalist when it comes to the US Department of Justice. He famously recused himself in the Mueller probe, due to conflict of interest concerns. That led to several tweetstorms by US President Donald Trump against the recusal, which Sessions has defended as the traditional and ethical thing to do.

In that light, Jeff Sessions might take the stance that rendering a reversal would be against the institution. He might prefer the U.S. Congress to take up the issue and write a law to address online gambling. The key takeaway is it’s all in Jeff Sessions’ hands. One person could take away online casinos and poker sites from 4 states, if he so chooses. Stay tuned.