Sheldon Adelson’s Minions: Some State Attorneys General Seek Wire Act Rewrite
The multifaceted attack financed by Las Vegas Sands CEO Sheldon Adelson against the advancement of online gambling legislation within the United States has opened up another front in the past couple of weeks, with the emergence of a letter to Congress penned by a handful of attorneys general from several states. Roughly ten AGs have signed the letter so far, which was initially submitted to all 50 state attorneys general by the officeholders in three states: Chris Coster of Missouri, John Bruning of Nebraska, and Alan Wilson of South Carolina.
The aim of the letter, which was first sent to the attorneys general of all 50 US states in late November, asks Congress to pass a Wire Act enhancement that would restore the pre-2012 interpretation of that old law, that it applied to more than sportsbetting. The law was an anti-racketeering measure drawn up in the American Mob’s heyday, though only sporstbetting was mentioned within its code.
For half a century, prosecutors extended the scope of the old law’s reach without facing a significant court challenge, but all that changed in late 2011 when US Attorney General Eric Holder issued his landmark clarification that the Wire Act applied only to sportsbetting. That clarification was vital to allowing states to offer lottery sales online, with its benefits to other forms of gambling, such as poker, regulated casino games, and even fantasy sports all coming along for the ride as well.
It is a reversal of that Holder opinion that the anti-gambling state AGs seek, despite the fact that the letter is by definition a step beyond the duties of states’ attorneys general: Their job is to enforce and interpret the statutes as passed by federal and state governments, and not to demand that new laws be passed.
The direct connection to Adelson’s anti-online effort, a massively hypocritical ploy by one of the world’s richest casino magnates, had been suspected but unconfirmed. That is until Saturday, when TheHill.com, one of the most connected sources for insider happenings in Washington D.C., reported that the letter itself was created by the Adelson camp and presented last November by Adelson’s lobbyists at the Republican Attorneys General Association annual meeting.
Eight of the ten state-level attorney generals known to have signed the letter to date are Republicans, largely from conservative, anti-gambling states. The two Democratic AGs who have also signed are also from states with little gambling history, Missouri’s Coster and Hawaii AG David Louie. Hawaii is one of only two US states (along with Utah) where all forms of gambling are illegal.
Excerpts from the letter that was sent to the state AGs include a blatant twisting of history. The first two paragraphs:
We are endorsing and circulating for sign-on a letter to Congressional Judiciary Committee Leadership seeking clarification that internet gambling is prohibited under the Wire Act, 19 U.S.C. § 1084. For years, the federal government relied upon the Wire Act to prohibit all forms of internet gambling. But in late 2011, the DOJ’s Office of Legal Council issued a legal opinion stating that the Wire Act only bans sports betting, and not online lottery sales.
The attached letter would indicate the support of the signatory Attorneys General for Congress to restore the outright internet gambling prohibition in the Wire Act. The letter urges Congress to restore such prohibition pending further analysis by federal and state law enforcement agencies of the full impact internet gambling has on our respective charges to protect the citizens of our states.
Except that this is a lie: The claim of an “outright internet gambling prohibition in the Wire Act” is a clear falsehood, since the Internet could not possibly be mentioned in a 1961 law that has never been updated. Such falsehoods are quickly becoming a trademark of Adelson’s Stop Internet Gambling group, the likely source of the lobbying effort.
Still, it may be more noise and fury than a truly impactful measure. Despite the minority swelling of support fueled by Adelson’s deep pockets, numerous states are likely to be directly opposed to the proposal. Those states include Delaware, Nevada and New Jersey, which have already legislated online gambling; other states such as California, Iowa, Pennsylvania and others, which are considering same; and states such as Illinois and New York, which sought the Holder opinion for the aforementioned lottery sales. Similar states eyeing online lottery revenue may be loath to join this effort.
Then, add in the other factions who now stand opposed to Adelson, including the blossoming fantasy-sports world, which contains broadcast networks such as ESPN and the politically powerful pro sports leagues themselves. The American Gaming Association has taken it upon itself to issue a press release to counter this latest move, noting that such a Wire Act rewrite would “sack” such fantasy-sports leagues. It’s also worth noting that any federal Wire Act rewrite would be unlikely to supercede existing state laws, and would only be applicable in states where no clear statutes on the topic exist.
This latest war over online gambling continues to offer high entertainment, indicating a true split in American attitudes on the issue. The saddest spectacle of all amid the greater social battle being waged is the sight of an old, sad, greedy Sheldon Adelson openly wielding his hypocritical, personal-profit motives in a manner that’s fooled no one, not even the legislators on Capitol Hill. It’s a good bet that Adelson’s next lapdog will be better prepared when Congress returns to the issue.