Four Republican congressmen are asking the U.S. Department of Justice to discard its controversial 2011 memo which has led to the legalization of internet gambling in four states.
Addressed to deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein, the December 19 letter said the Justice Department memo should be rejected “in order to give Congress the opportunity to work with your department, as well as state and local law enforcement, to establish a clear federal policy.”
The letter was signed by Congressmen Daniel Donovan of New York, Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania, Tom Garrett of Virginia and Louie Gohmert of Texas.
“Internet gambling carries with it significant law enforcement implications, as the pervasive nature and anonymity of the internet make it ripe for exploitation by criminals,” the letter said.
“The FBI has warned Congress that ‘online casinos are vulnerable to a wide array of criminal schemes’ and that it ‘may provide more opportunities for criminals to launder illicit proceeds with increased anonymity.’”
Fitzpatrick is a former FBI agent in California. Ironically, Donovan succeeded former Republican Congressman Michael Grimm of New York, another former FBI agent who strongly supported the regulation of internet poker before resigning his seat in 2015.
Grimm resigned after pleading guilty to felony tax fraud in 2014. After serving eight months in prison, Grimm announced three months ago he will try to regain his seat from Donovan during this year’s election.
“Hopefully the Justice Department has a good fact checker because this letter will keep them busy,” said John Pappas, executive director of the Poker Players Alliance which supports online gambling.
“Oddly, these congressmen speculate wildly about what could happen instead of examining the reality of regulated internet gambling as it exists today,” Pappas said.
“There is no need to speculate. Regulated iGaming in the U.S. protects consumers and alleviates strain on law enforcement because the legal market is clearly defined and controlled,” Pappas said.
The letter from the four Republican congressmen follows another letter to Rosenstein in November from Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein of California.
Graham and Feinstein, both of whom have long opposed online gaming, also urged Rosenstein to overturn the 2011 opinion written by former assistant attorney general Virginia Seitz when she was in charge of the Office of Legal Counsel at the Justice Department.
Feinstein also co-signed a letter in July with Democratic Senator Mark Warner of Virginia asking attorney general Jeff Sessions to follow through on his promise to review the Seitz opinion.
Seitz finished her opinion on September 20, 2011 but it was not released until more than three months later on December 23 — on a Friday, two days before Christmas.
In her opinion, Seitz concluded that sports betting is the only form of online gaming prohibited by the 1961 Wire Act.
Following the Seitz opinion, New Jersey, Nevada, Delaware, and most recently, Pennsylvania, passed legislation to legalize and regulate internet gambling within their borders. In addition, a half-dozen states have authorized online lottery operations.
During his confirmation hearing in January 2017 to become attorney general, Sessions assured Senator Graham that he would revisit the Seitz opinion and “make a decision about it based on careful study.”
But after hiring Charles “Chuck” Cooper to represent him in the congressional investigation of Russia’s influence on the 2016 presidential election, Sessions abruptly recused himself from investigating the legality of internet gambling.
Cooper had lobbied the Justice Department on behalf of the Coalition to Stop Internet Gambling, a group funded by Las Vegas Sands chairman Sheldon Adelson, who wants to abolish online gaming.
Senator Warner, who co-wrote the letter to Sessions in July, is the Democratic leader in the Senate’s investigation into Russia’s role in the 2016 presidential campaign.
Instead of Sessions or Rosenstein, sources say the Justice Department official most likely to make a ruling on internet gambling is Steven Engel, the new head of the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC).
Engel was confirmed by the Senate on November 7 on a narrow 51-47 vote. His nomination was held up for almost ten months because of his involvement with the OLC’s controversial “Torture memo” of July 20, 2007 which allowed six different “enhanced interrogation techniques.”
Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona, who was tortured as a prisoner of war in Vietnam, criticized Engel’s nomination and voted against it.