Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions (R) is likely going to become the next United States attorney general, and that might not bode well for online gambling advocates.
Appointed by President-elect Donald Trump, Sessions was on Capitol Hill this week for his confirmation hearing. His Republican colleagues congratulated him, while his Democratic counterparts seized the moment to grill the 70-year-old on racist comments he made in 1986.
Sessions was forced to denounce the KKK and Trump’s potential ban on Muslims. But when it came Sen. Lindsey Graham’s (R-South Carolina) turn, the conversation switched to online gambling.
“About the Wire Act, what’s your view on the Obama administration’s interpretation to allow online video poker gambling?” Graham asked.
Sessions responded, “I was shocked at the memorandum that the Department of Justice issued with regards to the Wire Act and criticized it. Apparently there is some justification or argument that can be made to support the Department of Justice’s position, but I did oppose it when it happened.”
Passed in 1961, the Wire Act prohibits certain types of betting businesses from operating in the United States. It explicitly bans using wire communications “for the transmission in interstate or foreign commerce of bets or wagers.”
In 2011, however, the DOJ issued an opinion on the federal statute that said the law applied only to sports betting, and not all forms of online gambling. The position essentially gave states the right to form their own internet casino laws, and Nevada, New Jersey, and Delaware opted to be dealt in.
“I would revisit it and I would make a decision about it based on careful study, and I haven’t gone that far to give you an opinion today,” Sessions told the Senate Judiciary Committee.
If the 2011 DOJ stance on the Wire Act were to be overturned, states could lose the right to authorize and license online gaming websites. Unless special exemptions were provided, operators in the three states would be forced offline.
Graham’s motives to inquire about Sessions’ internet gambling position are well known to those who follow the market.
Las Vegas Sands billionaire Sheldon Adelson, worth roughly $30 billion, has been pressuring Graham for years to find support in the Senate for the Restoration of America’s Wire Act (RAWA). The anti-online gambling bill seeks to override the 2011 memorandum and bring the Wire Act back to its previous understanding.
Though RAWA has gained multiple marque names in Congress, most likely due to Adelson’s large campaign contributions, it’s attracted little support among the general legislature. The bill has loitered the US Capitol since 2014, but was largely thought to be dead prior to Trump’s election and his nomination of Sessions.
Still a long shot at best, new versions of RAWA are now being introduced. Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Arkansas) unveiled new legislation last fall to overturn the 2011 DOJ opinion. Graham has cosponsored Cotton’s bill.
The easier alternative to restoring the Wire Act would be for Sessions’ DOJ to do the same as then-Attorney General Eric Holder did in 2011. However, that will present problems for potential AG who also said this week, “It’s not so much the attorney general’s job to decide what laws to enforce.”