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DOJ opinion will help protect kids from dangers of online gambling

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Shocking a gambling establishment working to place 24/7 gambling on every cell phone and video game, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) on Jan. 14 dealt a significant blow to online gambling.

Until 2011, this DOJ ban had been in place for 50 years via the DOJ’s use of former U.S. Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy’s Wire Act, 18 U.S.C. sec. 1084, which was initially passed to fight organized crime.

{mosads}In concert with the recommendations of the 1999 U.S. National Gambling Impact Study Commission established by Congress, the DOJ’s use of the Wire Act protected the public — and particularly kids — from 24/7 online gambling, including gambling on video games.

However, on Dec. 23, 2011 via a 13-page memo, the DOJ’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) reversed its long-held interpretation of the Wire Act to allow online non-sports gambling.

This 2011 OLC opinion was immediately vilified by the national press as reflecting corrupt influences and conflicts of interest, as detailed by the editorial board of the Christian Science Monitor on Dec. 27, 2011.

During a congressional hearing on Sep. 27, House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) again raised these bipartisan concerns, including OLC conflicts of interest. On Dec. 11, incoming Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) signaled to Gambling Compliance that he thought that the 2011 OLC opinion was incorrect.

Showing a picture of a child on his wireless ipad, Newsweek’s front cover on Aug. 14, 2014 stated: “How Washington Opened The Floodgates To Online Poker, Dealing Parents a Bad Hand.”

Subsequently, the severe social and economic consequences of online gambling were highlighted in congressional hearings on March 25, 2015, and most recently on Sep. 27, before the House Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security, and Investigations, chaired by Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.).

The large medical and societal costs of the spread of online electronic gambling can be viewed in the 60 Minutes investigative report, “Slot Machines: The Big Gamble.” 

Similarly, the national economic threat of online gambling for destabilizing Wall Street financials is exemplified by the 60 Minutes investigative report, “Financial WMDs.”

The 1999 U.S. Gambling Commission called both for maintaining the ban on internet gambling and for a moratorium on the expansion of any type of gambling anywhere.

Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) introduced into the 2002 Congressional Record a letter signed by over 220 social and religious organizations “calling on the Nation’s leaders to oppose the further spread of gambling.”

More recently, in an amicus brief to the U.S. Supreme Court in Murphy v. NCAA, 584 U.S.  (2018), the Stop Predatory Gambling organization was joined in opposing online sports gambling by dozens of bipartisan social-justice, religious organizations and denominations. This amicus brief detailed the disturbingly large social and economic costs of online sports gambling.

Per the growing national backlash against online gambling, the recent congressional hearings, and the public safety concerns raised by new House Judiciary Chair Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), the timing appears propitious for the new Congress to propose bipartisan legislation to protect kids from gambling predators, such as reenacting the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) predicated on the “Commerce Clause.” 

John Kindt teaches law and economics at the University of Illinois. He is senior editor of the United States International Gaming Report.

Tags Bob Goodlatte Bob Goodlatte Company Product Entertainment Federal Wire Act Frank Wolf Gambling Lindsey Graham Murphy v. National Collegiate Athletic Association Office of Legal Counsel Online gambling Online poker Person Career Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act Sports betting

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