Wire Act issues comes up in confirmation hearing on Jeff Sessions

Wire Act issues comes up in confirmation hearing on Jeff Sessions

President-elect Trump’s nominee for Attorney General, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) is likely to revisit the 2011 interpretation of the Wire Act handed down then by Attorney General Eric Holder. the Wire Act was held to not prohibit state-based regulated gambling on the internet. Since then a number of states are allowing regulated gambling operations online which allows participation from residents of states where this is legal. There are many strong reasons why this interpretation should not be overturned by the Dept. of Justice under the next administration.

the Wire Act was never intended as a ban on internet based gambling, in fact, it was enacted by Congress in 1961 long before the internet existed. Congress passed it, along with other measures, and President John F. Kennedy signed the Wire Act as a measure to combat organized crime. the Wire Act itself intended to target sports better, which organized crime was heavily involved in and profited from greatly.

However, the Wire Act was originally intended and long understood as a narrow and targeted weapon to assist the states in preventing organized crime from taking bets on sports—not as a broad federal prohibition that would prevent states from legalizing online gambling within their borders,” Michelle Minton writing for the Center for Gaming Research at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas about the Wire Act.

Minton also points out how the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA) of 2006 prohibits the processing of payments for illegal internet-based gambling while at the same time it does not prohibit interstate Internet gambling where the betting in payments take place in one state. This also contradicts any claim the Wire Act prohibits all state-based Internet gambling.

The Wire Act was originally intended to shut down organized crime activities by banning sports-related betting. It was never intended to to federally ban all online gambling. The ruling by the Office of Legal Counsel didn’t overturn or radically change the meaning of the Wire Act, it restored the original meaning of the law.

Despite that being the case, those who seeks to overturn the correct interpretation of the Wire Act handed down by the DOJ’s Office of Legal Counsel in 2011, have sought legislation, including the “Restoration of America’s Wire Act” (RAWA). This bill would have overturned all 50 state laws, including those that legalized internet-based gambling and those states laws that prohibited it, replacing them all with a federal ban on state-based gambling in violation of the Tenth Amendment.

Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), the chief sponsor of RAWA in the House and Chairman of the House Oversight Committee, held a hearing before that committee in an effort to build Congressional and public support for passing the measure. Opponents of RAWA made convincing arguments against it on the basis of it violating the Tenth Amendment and also putting in danger Second Amendment rights. The same federal authority that could be used to ban state-based internet gambling could just as easily prohibit the sales of ammunition and firearms online where states would allow that.

Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-SC), one of the Senate sponsors of RAWA in the last session of Congress, asked Sessions about his views on the 2011 interpretation of the Wire Act and if he would revisit the issue as Attorney General. Sessions stated he had initially opposed the interpretation handed down in 2011, but as Attorney General he would study the issue before handing down a new ruling on the issue.

The push to enact RAWA and similar legislation has been a one-man crusade of Las Vegas casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, who has donated hundreds of millions in campaign contributions to Republican candidates in exchange for their sponsorship and promotion legislation federally banning Internet-based gambling. While RAWA has had the support of a few Republicans doing the bidding of Adelson, the strongest opponents of RAWA, based on Constitutional grounds, have been Republicans. Despite the efforts of Adelson and a few Republicans who support it, RAWA and similar bills have not advanced in either house of Congress.

New Jersey, Nevada, and Delaware have successfully implemented state-based regulated Internet gambling and have shown the use of technology allows them to block participation from residents of states that prohibit Internet gambling, such as Utah. The hearing before the House Oversight Committee last summer highlighted how this technology works, effective placing the very cyberspace based limits that sponsors of RAWA claimed is not possible.

vA thorough look into the all the issues involved should lead Sen. Sessions to conclude, as most others have so far, that the 2011 interpretation by the Office of Legal Counsel was correct, and the Wire Act does not in fact prohibit state-based Internet gambling.