Loretta Lynch Unlikely to Overturn Wire Act Interpretation as Attorney General

on February 17, 2015
Loretta E. Lynch

Loretta Lynch faced several questions about Internet gambling in a written follow-up to her confirmation hearings. (Image: NationalLawJournal.com/File Photo)

Loretta Lynch says that if she becomes US attorney general, she would be willing to take another look at the Department of Justice’s reinterpretation of the Wire Act, but that it is unlikely she would overrule that decision.

That and other insights into Lynch’s views about online gambling law came from her written responses to follow-up questions from the Senate Judiciary Committee, as President Barack Obama’s nominee for attorney general answered queries on a variety of topics posed by committee members.

Most of the questions related to Internet gambling came from Senator Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina), an online gambling opponent who is likely to reintroduce the Sheldon Adelson-backed Restore America’s Wire Act (RAWA) in the Senate later this year.

One question on the topic was also asked by Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-California), though it was essentially the same as one of the questions asked by Graham.

Graham, Feinstein Ask About Wire Act

Both senators wanted to know what Lynch thought about the decision by the DOJ Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) to reinterpret the Interstate Wire Act of 1961, finding that it only applied to sports betting. Feinstein asked if Lynch would be willing to review the decision, while Graham asked if Lynch agreed with the decision. The attorney general nominee answered both questions nearly identically.

“If confirmed as Attorney General, I will review the Office of Legal Counsel opinion,” Lynch wrote in response to Feinstein’s question. “It is my understanding, however, the OLC opinions are rarely reconsidered.”

That was pleasant news for those who enjoy playing online casino and poker games in regulated markets. Nevada, New Jersey and Delaware each offer various forms of online gambling in their states, a move that was only legally permissible after the Wire Act reinterpretation.

Lynch Says She Would Help Interested Lawmakers Address Gambling Issues

However, Lynch did say that she would be willing to work with lawmakers if they wanted to craft a bill to deal with Internet gambling.

“If confirmed, I will read the opinion and if it articulates a reasonable interpretation of the law, I would welcome the opportunity to work with you and other Members of Congress to address concerns about online gambling through legislation.”

Graham’s questioning went further, however. He asked specifically about a 2013 civil forfeiture case that Lynch, the US attorney for the Eastern District of New York, prosecuted. In the case, the charges against the defendants included operating a website that offered “casino games and sports betting.” Graham asked Lynch to clarify why, if the Wire Act only applied to sports betting, the charges were extended to casino games as well.

“The proceeds seized in connection with the civil forfeiture action were exclusively the proceeds of sports gambling,” Lynch replied. “The reference in the civil forfeiture complaint to ‘real money casino games and sports betting’ was taken from one of the website’s own description of the activities that it facilitated and was not a description of the predicate offense that the government asserted as the basis for the forfeiture.”

Graham also questioned whether the OLC opinion was appropriate, considering what a massive change to the online gambling landscape it caused without consulting with Congress or other officials. Lynch, however, said the office did exactly what it was supposed to do.

“It is my understanding that the Office strives to provide an objective assessment of the law using traditional tools of statutory interpretation,” Lynch replied. “These tools would not include seeking the views of Congress, the public, law enforcement, or state and local officials.”