Lesniak Uncovers Insider Documents on Wire Act
Former New Jersey State Senator Ray Lesniak (l.) used the Freedom of Information Act to secure documents related to efforts to reverse the 1961 Wire Act, an interpretation that opened the door to online gaming. Sands owner Sheldon Adelson has long opposed such gambling.
Former New Jersey State Senator Ray Lesniak, a man instrumental in the push to overthrow PAPSA in the U.S. Supreme Court, tapped the Freedom of Information Act to seek documentation on the Department of Justice efforts to scuttle a 2011 interpretation of the 1961 Wire Act which permitted online gaming.
According to USBets, Lesniak got more than he bargained for, but not evidence that Sands owner Sheldon Adelson directed the effort to get rid of online gaming.
The 76 pages of documents point out the various efforts attempted to convince the feds reverse the 2011 position, and even more to retain that new status quo. The most notable backers for the amended DOJ posture are U.S. Senators Lindsay Graham (R-SC) and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA).
In a May 2017 letter to then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the senators remind him that during his confirmation, Graham expressed shock that the Obama administration approved of gambling outside of sports betting. Sessions added that he would “revisit” the issue as attorney general.
“It is our hope that your careful study of the opinion has exposed its flaws and that you restore the department’s longstanding practice of enforcing the Wire Act against online gambling by revoking the opinion,” the senators wrote.
Sessions also received a letter that month from three Democratic members of the House of Representatives—Henry Cuellar of Texas, Dan Lipinski of Illinois, and Emanuel Cleaver of Missouri—asking Sessions to “consider withdrawing” the DOJ opinion that led to several states legalizing online casino gaming.
The congressmen wrote, “Internet gambling is not a partisan issue. It’s one we believe should be more closely examined by policy makers in Congress before being allowed to expand any further.”
Republican Jon Bruning—counsel for the Coalition to Stop Internet Gambling, which has ties to Adelson—made his case in a July 2017 letter to then-Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.
“I served as Nebraska’s top law enforcement officer for 12 years,” Bruning wrote. “During that time I observed firsthand the threats to our children and most vulnerable citizens lurking on the internet and was a strong advocate for protecting my citizens from illegal activity prevalent online. This is why I was extremely troubled when President Obama’s Department of Justice reversed a longstanding interpretation of the Wire Act to permit online gambling.”
Other documents show that Sessions and Rosenstein received a request from the NFL and NCAA in May 2018 seeking a meeting in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in favor of New Jersey that allows any state to offer sports betting. It said, “While we respect the court’s ruling, the absence of a clear and enforceable legal standard for sports betting threatens the integrity of our nation’s professional and amateur sports contests—something both Congress and the U.S. Department of Justice have sought to protect for the last 50 years. To protect the integrity of our games in a post-PASPA environment, we urge the U.S. Department of Justice to immediately act, in concert with Congress, to create statutory and regulatory standards for sports betting in the United States.”
Sessions’ successor, acting Attorney General, Matthew Whitaker, then directed top aides to set up a meeting with the NFL and NCAA.
There also is a February 2017 legal analysis from the law firm to the Coalition to Stop Internet Gambling that does a deep dive into Congressional political sentiment in the 1950s that leads to the Wire Act of 1961. The details appear to suggest that members of Congress were indeed concerned about interstate gambling issues beyond just sports betting.
Former Congressman and presidential candidate Ron Paul wrote a letter on behalf of his Campaign for Liberty organization in June 2017 seeking a lesser role for government after Sessions opposed the 2011 opinion.
“The claim that the Wire Act authorizes a federal ban on online gambling does not survive serious scrutiny for a number of reasons,” Paul wrote. “First, the law was passed more than three decades before the internet was widely used. In fact, when the Wire Act was debated, the idea that average Americans would someday carry devices more powerful than the era’s supercomputers was too fanciful even for science fiction.
Another objection to the January 2019 DOJ policy change that threatens to limit online gambling came two months later from attorneys for IGT, which bills itself as “the largest lottery service provider in the United States, and the largest end-to-end gaming company in the world” provided a white paper that stressed the confusion in the lottery the DOJ ruling had.
“Without further clarity, IGT and its state partners could soon face the Hobson’s Choice of shutting down their lottery businesses, fundamentally restructuring that business with upfront and ongoing costs, or risking criminal prosecution. We believe that none of this should be necessary, because the Wire Act does not apply to state lotteries.”