GOP senator: White House 'helping friends' led to lax online gambling rules

In 2011, the Department of Justice revised its interpretation on which types of betting were prohibited under federal law. The department’s new interpretation of the 1961 Wire Act banned only online betting on sporting events, not all gambling, and opened the doors to states allowing poker and other betting on the Internet.

Heller called it a political gift to state lottery systems that bypassed Congress.

“The White House made a decision two days before Christmas, while all of us were out of town, not calling a single member of Congress, said ‘We’re going to change the way we do business here in this country, and we’re going to exempt Internet gambling, and we’re going to say that [the federal prohibition] only pertains to sports betting.’”

He called the decision an example of “friends helping friends and making sure that some of these states could put their lottery tickets online.”

Heller’s comments came during a hearing on Wednesday about consumer protections for Internet gambling.

“Due to the regulatory uncertainty created by that 2011 decision, the Internet has effectively turned into the Wild West for online gambling,” he said.

The Justice Department opinion was in response to a question from the states of Illinois and New York as to whether the law prevented them from using the Internet to sell lottery tickets.