Are Latest Fears about a Federal iPoker Ban Justified?

Great Seal of the United StatesSome industry observers have suggested this may be the week when AG Jeff Sessions “revisits” the DoJ´s 2011 poker-friendly interpretation of the Wire Act.

In December 2011, The Department of Justice´s Office of Legal Counsel issued an opinion that the scope of the 1961 Wire Act “is limited only to sports betting”. The revised interpretation of the Wire Act allowed New York and Illinois to proceed with plans to put lottery sales online, and later led to the regulation of online gambling in Nevada, New Jersey and Delaware.

During the following five years, further states introduced online lotteries and legalized Daily Fantasy Sports betting; while some states edged closer to regulating online gambling – albeit slowly. However, earlier this year, what momentum there was towards online gambling allegedly (*) took a knock when AG-Elect Jeff Sessions commented he was prepared to “revisit” the DoJ´s opinion.

Comments Taken Out of Context

Although Sessions said he was “shocked” at the DoJ´s Wire Act opinion, and told Senator Lindsay Graham during the Senate Judiciary Committee´s confirmation hearing that he was prepared to “revisit” it, the question about the DoJ´s opinion was fired at Sessions completely out of context of the rest of the hearing. Graham – well-known to be a puppet of anti-online gambling billionaire Sheldon Adelson – even looked embarrassed to ask it.

If you were to read a transcript of the brief poker-related conversation between Jeff Sessions and Senator Lindsay Graham, your concerns about a federal online gambling ban might be justified. But in the context of the hearing? You judge for yourself. A recording of the confirmation hearing can be found here. Senator Graham´s questioning starts at 1:55:45. The brief interaction about the Wire Act starts at 1:59:00.

As well as saying he was willing to revisit the opinion, Sessions said he would give careful consideration before making any decision and added there were arguments to support the DoJ´s opinion. Naturally, the glass-half-empty brigade [geolink href=””]overreacted to the AG-Elect´s comments[/geolink], but more level-headed industry observers were quick to point out that Sessions´ answer did not reflect a strong, established position.

The Latest Fears about a Federal iPoker Ban?

The latest fears about a federal ipoker ban appear to have resulted from a letter sent to Sessions by the National Governors Association last week. The letter expresses concerns about federal “legislative or administrative actions that would ban online Internet gaming and Internet lottery sales” and argues that federal meddling would be a violation of the states´ rights to regulate or prohibit online gambling and online lotteries.

Plenty of news sites picked up on the letter and interpreted it as a sign that an online poker ban was just around the corner. Forbes reported that Sessions´ comments during the confirmation hearing were “damming”; and, writing for The Hill, Michelle Minton commented that Sessions would “likely overturn” the DOJ´s opinion (* and speculated that the fear on a federal ipoker ban had put the brakes on regulation in Pennsylvania).

The hyperbole drove the Poker Players Association to launch an Easter Weekend Daily Action Plan encouraging its members to email and Tweet AG Jeff Sessions, while Pocket Fives co-founder Adam Small sent out a tweet suggesting Sessions had already made his mind up about imposing a federal ipoker ban:

So, Are the Fears Justified?

A quick search on what Jeff Sessions has been up to in recent weeks would suggest he has had little time to give “careful consideration” to anything as relatively trifling as online poker. Most news media are focusing on his involvement in police reforms, tougher sentencing for non-violet drug-related crimes, the detention and prosecution of illegal immigrants, and civil rights issues for transgender groups. He also appears to be fighting a one-man war against regulated medical marijuana. Ban online poker? Sorry, I just don´t have the time.

It is also worth considering that Sessions has never said a ban was the likely outcome. It has been almost twenty years since he last expressed a negative opinion about online gambling and has since been fairly accepting. None of the states considering the regulation of online gambling have rushed through legislation hoping for a carve-out and – although the failure to pass legislation could be interpreted as a sign that nobody actually wants regulated online gambling that badly – the latest fears about a federal ipoker ban do seem to be a little over-the-top and more than likely unjustified.

Jacqueline Packett
Jacqueline Packett