U.S. Attorney General Nominee Jeff Sessions Doesn’t Seem to be an Online Poker Fan

We are about one week away from a Donald Trump presidency, or “precedency,” as he’d prefer to spell it, which is getting scarier by the day, but one person that poker players (not to mention anyone else with decency or common sense) are feeling nervous about is Senator Jeff Sessions, Trump’s nominee for U.S. Attorney General. On Tuesday, the confirmation hearing began for a man deemed too racist in 1986 to be fit for a federal judgeship and what he had to say about online poker has many in the poker community on edge.

Senator Lindsey Graham

Senator Lindsey Graham

The hearing was in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee and, of course, the subject of online poker was brought up by committee member Senator Lindsey Graham. You may remember Graham from such hits as “Sheldon Adelson’s Jock Washer” or “Restoration of America’s Wire Act (RAWA) Introducer.”

To briefly review, when the Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) issued a clarification of the Wire Act at the end of 2011 saying that it only made internet sports betting illegal, rather than all online gambling, the door was opened for states to launch their own internet gaming industries. So far, just Nevada, New Jersey, and Delaware have legalized and regulated online poker, though several other states have or are looking into it.

The OLC opinion sent Adelson, CEO of the Las Vegas Sands Corporation, into a tizzy, along with ultra-conservative anti-gambling members of Congress (Adelson is clearly not anti-gambling, just anti-perceived competition). For years since, Adelson has been trying to get RAWA passed, which would essentially reverse the OLC’s opinion and make online gambling illegal in the United States. Lindsey Graham has been Adelson’s conduit in the Senate.

When it was Graham’s turn to question Sessions, he started by blowing sunshine up his ass and declaring that he will vote to confirm his nomination. During the searing interrogation (note: sarcasm), Graham brought up online poker and the Wire Act. Here is a complete transcript of the conversation:

Lindsey Graham: About the Wire Act, what’s your view of the…Obama’s Administration’s interpretation of the Wire Act law to allow online video poker, or poker…gambling?

Jeff Sessions: Senator Graham, I was shocked at the memorandum – I guess – the enforcement memorandum that the Department of Justice issued with regard 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 and it seemed to me to be an unusual….

Graham: Would you revisit it?

Sessions: 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.

A couple things to start. First, this guy Graham has been the top challenger of online poker in the Senate for a number of years and he still doesn’t know proper phrasing. Video poker? Come on. Second, by saying “Obama Administration,” he is CLEARLY painting the topic with a political brush, trying to get Sessions and other Republicans listening to think, “Oh, OBAMA was behind this? Well then this just CAN’T STAND!”

The most notable part of the exchange, though, was Sessions’ revelation that he was shocked – SHOCKED – when the OLC released its clarification of the Wire Act. If we are to take him at his word that he was actually aware of the OLC’s decision and couldn’t believe what he was reading and/or hearing, then the future of online poker in the United States does not look at all good. That he was “shocked” would seem to imply that he is against the legalization of online poker and other forms of gambling. I suppose you could go with the reverse interpretation in that he was shocked in a good way, but there is little chance of that.

At least he didn’t go any farther during the hearing in expressing any sort of displeasure with online poker or any sort of desire to ban it. Instead, he said he would look at the OLC opinion and evaluate it.

And while I am relieved that he didn’t talk out of his ass and put online poker on blast, I also highly doubt he will be as principled as Loretta Lynch was when she was up for the Attorney General post. Graham tried to grill her on internet poker, as she was a nominee of President Obama’s, but she never took his bait. In fact, her later responses to his written questions were fantastic.

One of the written questions Graham submitted was, “Do you think it was appropriate for OLC to effectively open the door for states to offer Internet gaming without the involvement of Congress, the public, law enforcement, and state and local officials?”

Her response:

Pursuant to delegation, OLC exercises the Attorney General’s authority to provide the President and executive agencies with advice on questions of law. Because OLC helps the President fulfill his constitutional obligation to take care that the law be faithfully executed, it is my understanding that the Office strives to provide an objective assessment of the law using traditional tools of statutory interpretation. These tools would not include seeking the views of Congress, the public, law enforcement, or state and local officials on a question of statutory interpretation.

Lynch also took a similar line to Sessions, saying she would review the OLC’s Wire Act opinion, but she went one step further, telling Graham in so many words not to expect her to advance his political agenda.

“Unless in the course of my review I conclude that OLC’s interpretation of the Wire Act is unreasonable, I do not intend to take any action to suspend or revoke the opinion,” she said.

Featured photo credit: Alex Wong/Getty Images


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