[toc]Senators Dianne Feinstein (D – CA) and Lindsey Graham (R – SC) have written a letter to the Justice Department to urge a revisit and retraction of a 2011 opinion about online gambling. In a rare display of bipartisanship, the two senators renewed their warnings that the opinion overrides the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA). They also say the opinion flies in the face of “50 years of interpreting the Wire Act” with regard to online gambling.
The letter trots out the same tired rhetoric that anti-gambling individuals always mention. Gambling harms children. It harms the most vulnerable. Online casinos are involved with criminals.
At no point is anything in the letter more than axiomatic. Neither senator offers concrete evidence for their claims.
Instead, they rely upon truisms they imagine to be self-evident. The letter also urges haste on the part of the Justice Department due to online gambling legislation proceeding through several state legislatures.
Feinstein and Graham unclear how the industry works
The opinion in question was a statement regarding proposals in Illinois and New York to use the Internet and out-of-state processors for their in-state lottery transactions. Assistant Attorney General Virginia Seitz wrote the opinion, concluding that these transactions would not violate the Wire Act since the exchanges did not relate to a “sporting event or contest.”
The Wire Act of 1961 prohibits wagering across state lines on these sorts of events. The act, though antiquated, provides the backbone for other anti-gambling laws like the UIGEA and the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA).
It takes an incredible contortion of thought to believe that the Wire Act relates to non-sports gambling when the act specifically mentions its purview as sporting events or contests. The senators also make quite a leap to assert that a 1961 bill is sufficient to legislate internet transactions.
Prohibitions of any type are under fire in the USA
This letter comes at a time in history where numerous long-held legal precedents are under attack. States are asserting themselves with laws that fly in the face of federal opinion. They are challenging the federal government through claims of states’ rights issues and arguments about the limits of federal power.
Notably, on Dec. 4, the United States Supreme Court heard arguments from New Jersey regarding the constitutionality of PASPA. If observers’ opinions are correct, the Court appears to be sympathetic to the cause of the petitioners, and there is a fighting chance that sports wagering will become legal in the US soon.
States and cities are also challenging the federal government on issues such as recreational marijuana usage. Six states and Washington D.C. legalized the use of the drug on private property for recreational purposes. California and Maine are soon to follow.
Prohibitions of vice in this country have historically had poor outcomes. It is instructive to remember that the prohibition on alcohol ushered in the era of organized crime.
Why these senators believe prohibitions on gambling will cause gambling to cease is baffling. To do so would cause the thing they fear – a large underground of illegal gambling that victimizes good people who simply want to place a wager.