In response to Pennsylvania passing online gambling legislation last month, two US Senators are asking the US Department of Justice to change the legal opinion that allowed the state to do it.

Sens. Diane Feinstein (D-CA) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) co-wrote a letter to Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein asking that the DOJ revisit and withdraw its 2011 legal opinion on the 1961 Federal Wire Act. It was that same opinion that paved the way for PA and three other states to legalize and regulate internet gambling.

The DOJ issued its legal opinion that 1961 Federal Wire Act only applies only to sports betting in December 2011. It was in response to questions about the legality of online lottery sales. However, several states took this to mean the act did not apply to online gambling either.

Online gambling legislation in the US

Four states have since passed online gambling legislation, including Delaware, Nevada, and New Jersey. New Jersey’s online gambling industry is now averaging approximately $20 million a month in revenue. In October 2017, Pennsylvania became the fourth state to pass online gambling legislation. The state is still at the licensing and regulation stage. PA’s first online gambling sites have yet to open up.

In the meantime, Sens. Feinstein and Graham say the question of whether online casinos should be allowed in the US is one better left to Congress to decide.

They are now asking that the the DOJ reverse its position, fearing that if it does not, online casinos will soon “sweep across our country.”

Anti-online gambling fear mongering

This latest letter from Sens. Feinstein and Graham is a follow-up to one from three years ago. At that time, Sens. Feinstein and Graham said the the DOJ opinion could turn “every smartphone, tablet, and personal computer in our country into a casino available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.”

It provides no evidence to back it up. However, the letter also claims online gambling preys upon children and society’s most vulnerable.

The internet itself, and online gambling, are still not yet 50 years old. However, the letter from Sens. Feinstein and Graham claims the DOJ opinion “reversed 50 years of interpreting the Wire Act to prohibit all gambling online.”

The letter also mentions a 2013 Federal Bureau of Investigation statement that online casinos are vulnerable to a variety of criminal activity, like money laundering. However, the FBI claims clearly referred to offshore online gambling operations, not online casinos that are legal and regulated by US states with a variety of consumer protections in place.

A reiteration of RAWA

The letter appears to be a reiteration of the arguments made in favor of a bill called the Restoration of America’s Wire Act (RAWA). RAWA was first introduced in 2014. The legislation would effectively rewrite the Federal Wire Act to ban most forms of online gambling. This includes state-regulated online gambling in PA, New Jersey, Delaware and Nevada.

RAWA is widely believed to be backed by casino mogul Sheldon Adelson.  He is founder, chairman and chief executive officer of Las Vegas Sands Corporation. Sands owns and operates Sands Casino Resort Bethlehem in PA.

Several drafts of RAWA have been introduced in both chambers of Congress, but have failed to advance.

Sens. Feinstein and Graham are clearly hoping to shut down online gambling in the US and take away states’ rights to pass online gambling legislation. However, they readily admit it is a growing market.

In fact, their letter suggests other states are “lined up to follow suit” after PA passed online gambling legislation last month.

Martin Derbyshire

Martin Derbyshire

Martin Derbyshire has spent more than a decade traveling the globe in his capacities as a reporter, editor, and video producer in the world of high stakes poker and gambling. He covers the industry for a variety of publications, including USPoker.com, PlayUSA.com, and PlayPA.com.