Brief Shelf Life for Congress-Proposed Wire Act Enforcement Blocker

Updated: June 30th, 2019 by Haley Hintze

Then there’s the tale of a Congressional attempt to block the US Department of Justice from enforcing any law or aspect thereof as it relates to online gambling, particularly the “reversal opinion” offered by the DOJ and crafted by lobbyists for Sheldon Adelson’s Las Vegas Sands, Inc. that sought to bar virtually all forms of online gambling, including online poker, across the entire US.

As we’ve previously reported, that Adelson-funded nastiness has run aground in the US legal system, where the State of New Hampshire has prevailed in its attempt to have that reversal opinion and a looming enforcement deadline nullified. That means that for now, US states are free to legalize various forms of online gambling as they choose, gambling once again being recognized as a states’ rights issues. That’s despite the DOJ issuing a memo in the wake of its legal loss stating that it plans to “delay” its enforcement of the reversal opinion until 2020, which is likely best read as the DOJ still considering whether it plans to file an appeal in the US First Circuit case.

However — and there’s always a “however” to these things — the DOJ’s willingness to do a crony capitalist’s bidding is increasing angering citizens and legislators across the entire US. The New Hampshire v. DOJ (specifically US Attorney General and Donald Trump bootlicker William Barr) case wasn’t really just about New Hampshire; 15 other US states joined in as amici (“friends”) in support of the fight against the Wire Act reversal opinion. All that heat aimed at the DOJ came from state-level governments, but there’s some pushback within the US Congress, too.

A handful of days ago, US House of Representatives Rules Committee members Rep. Hank Johnson (D-GA, Rep. Sanford Bishop (D-GA), and Rep. Andy Barr (R-KY) introduced an amendment to be attached to ongoing federal legislation that would simply have barred the DOJ from enforcing that 2018 reversal opinion regarding the Wire Act. Johnson was the primary sponsor of the proposed amendment, which was brief and read as follows:

None of the funds made available by this Act may be used to enforce the Department of Justice Office of Legal Counsel memorandum entitled ‘‘Reconsidering Whether the Wire Act Applies to Non-Sports Gambling’’ (issued on November 2, 2018).

That’s the formal title of the reversal opinion, just to clarify. Both Georgia and Kentucky are among numerous states that offer multi-state lottery draws — which would be made illegal under that 2018 opinion — and which are also considering expanding the actual sales of lottery tickets online as well.

The sad part of this tale was that the amendment was withdrawn just a few days later from ongoing budget talks. Nonetheless, it serves as a notable shot over the bow to the DOJ regarding that highly unpopular reversal opinion. Georgia and Kentucky are Old South states generally considered to be far more conservative and anti-gambling than the median US state, so if they’re upset with the DOJ’s… errm… Adelson’s fevered dreams, the disgust has to be widespread.

It seems clear why the amendment was yanked — it’s both simplistic and overbroad and it attempts to do an end-around of normal Congressional channels and methods for dealing with an executive-branch DOJ that’s increasingly gone rogue. The DOJ has always claimed that’s it’s just enforcing the laws, not writing them, but as its reversal opinion shows, those claims are largely a responsibility-dodging shuck.

Though this budgetary-amendment maneuver might have failed, there are likely to be other attempts to corral the DOJ’s enforcement powers should it continue this Wire Act nonsense.

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