The incoming Trump presidential administration in the United States has been the subject of endless speculation on how it may change the legal scene across a wide spectrum of issues in that country, with online gambling legalisation among them.
This week a Senate confirmation hearing on the appointment as Attorney General of the United States of Alabama senator Jeff Sessions raised the worrying prospect that Sessions could be bad news for the industry.
Referring to the September 2011 Department of Justice opinion that the 1961 Wire Act applied only to online sports betting, Sessions told the confirmation panel that he had been “shocked” by the decision and indicated that he intended to revisit the issue should he be confirmed.
The DoJ Office of Legal Counsel’s opinion was brought up in the hearing by the notoriously
anti-online gambling senator from South Carolina Lindsey Graham, who is known to support Sheldon Adelson's repeatedly failed Restoration of America's Wire Act (see previous InfoPowa reports).
Having raised the issue, and the possible progression of RAWA, Graham did not give Sessions the chance to complete his response, but the candidate did manage to say:
“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…”
At that point Graham interrupted Sessions to ask bluntly whether he would revisit the opinion or not, to which Sessions responded:
“I would revisit it and I will make a decision on it based on careful study. I haven’t gone that far to give you an opinion today.”
Commenting on Sessions' responses, Poker Players Alliance executive director John Pappas said:
“Any change to [the Department of Justice] 2011 decision would be a radical departure from the precedent given to the independent and legally-based opinions generated by the Office of Legal Counsel.
“AG nominee Sessions says he will give it ‘careful study’ and I have no doubt that careful study of the decision will reaffirm what OLC, the courts and Congress already agree on: the Wire Act is limited to sports betting and states may regulate other forms of internet gaming.”
However, David Williams, president of the Taxpayers Protection Alliance which maintains that the question of internet gambling should be left to individual states and not the federal government, noted that Sessions supported efforts in the late ‘nineties to crack down on internet gambling, although he had baulked at opportunities to get behind RAWA.
“There was an opportunity to jump on that bandwagon and he didn’t,” he said.
Michelle Minton of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, interpreted Sessions' brief comments differently, opining that he appeared to have already made up his mind.
“He says he opposed the original memo, and then he said he needed to study the issue thoroughly before making a decision. But that he already opposed something – he didn’t study it – makes me feel like his mind is already made up,” she said.
Sessions' comments came in a hearing that covered a very wide range of imperative US legal and enforcement issues, and continuity was at times difficult to follow as anti-Trump demonstrators tried to disrupt proceedings; Graham's insertion of the RAWA issue was a very small part of a far wider and more general non-gambling discussion and appeared to be quickly submerged.
Given Graham's reportedly close association with land casino mogul, political donor and ardent anti-online gambling campaigner Sheldon Adelson, it was perhaps ironic that in his opening statement Sessions referred to “special interests,” vowing that he would not entertain attempts from such quarters to influence his decisions and actions.
Pappas was quick to zero in on that, saying that if under Sessions' watch the Department of Justice does seek to change the Department's 2011 Wire Act interpretation it would constitute a stark example of how a powerful political donor can influence legal policy in the United States.