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Just before sneaking off to Hawaii, where he barred news photos on the golf course, President Obama overturned a longstanding U.S. policy that prohibited Internet gambling. In yet another presidential shenanigan that bypasses U.S. law, Obama used the device of a secret Justice Department Office of Legal Counsel opinion, dated in September and quietly released to the public on Christmas Eve.
The Justice Department opinion opens the door for all U.S. states to sell lottery tickets over the Internet and to encourage varieties of online, Web-based gambling, such as poker.
The Justice Department opinion reverses decades of previous policy that included civil and criminal charges. It undermines the U.S. Wire Act of 1961, which up till now has prohibited all wagers via telecommunications across state lines or international borders.
Eric Holder’s lawyers invented the argument that the Wire Act applies only to bets on a “sporting event or contest,” but not to a state’s use of the Internet to sell lottery tickets to adults within its borders.
The assistant attorney general who wrote the opinion, Virginia Seitz, claimed that the Wire Act’s legislative history shows that Congress was mainly interested in Internet transmission of betting information on baseball, basketball, football, boxing and other sports-related gambling such as off-track betting on horse races. She jumped from that assertion to write that lotteries are not included in the Wire Act’s prohibitions.
Seitz ignored the Wire Act’s provision that gives prosecutors the power to shut down phone lines engaged in interstate or foreign gambling. Gambling-law experts say that the Justice Department’s opinion would eliminate almost every federal anti-gambling law that could apply to gambling that is legal under state law.
For example, Nevada and the District of Columbia have legalized poker within their jurisdictions. Under the Seitz opinion, federal law can no longer stop similar forms of gambling from expanding to other states.
Many of our 50 states may look to varieties of online gambling, such as online lotteries, to solve their budget deficit problems. Once states become dependent on gambling dollars, they search for more and more ways to entice the weakest among us to pour more of their money down the drain of gambling.