In 1961, Congress passed and the president signed a law called the Wire Act. The purpose of the Wire Act, which was proposed by then-Attorney General Robert Kennedy, was simple: to prevent the use of telephones and telegraphs in the use of gambling. Gambling included all forms of gambling, from sports betting to lotteries to casino games.
In 2011, a single lawyer in the Obama Department of Justice overruled Congress. An attorney in the Office of Legal Counsel for the Department of Justice issued an opinion that stated the Wire Act only applied to sports betting, not other forms of online gaming.
The reaction to that one rogue lawyer issuing a non-binding, “legal opinion” was immediate. Several states began to allow online gaming. Some of the usual suspects, the money-hungry, poorly managed states, went to online lotteries.
Now, more than a year into the Trump administration, something needs to be done.
It is the absolute height of arrogance, not to mention the assumption of unwarranted power, for a single attorney in the Department of Justice to overrule not only 50 years of precedent and government policy but an actual act of Congress that was signed into law by President John F. Kennedy.
Now, a year into Republican control over the government, one of the questions that should be asked is, why hasn’t Congress reminded the Executive Branch of the U.S. Constitution and fact that a single attorney in the Department of Justice does not get to overrule a law passed by Congress and signed by the president?
The issue of online gaming is a complicated issue. There are issues of fraud, money laundering, organized crime and social policy. Does America want to allow online gambling, where the users have no idea who is controlling the game and giving the creator of the online game, the opportunity to steal from unsuspecting Americans?
Online gaming presents amazing opportunities for money laundering. All terrorists have to do to launder their money is go on the gambling apps, lose and suddenly their dirty money is turned into clean money from the bank that works for the gambling site.
Brick-and-mortar casinos have stringent licensing requirements. Online gambling sites do not. An online gambling site might be in Las Vegas or it might be in Lagos, Nigeria. Consumers may well not know until their bank account is empty.
Another social issue that has to be addressed is whether as a nation America wants to allow online gambling. Opponents of online gambling will talk about parents whose children go without because they blew all of their paycheck on gambling online. They will also tell of teenagers who get addicted to online gambling because they can access gambling with a smartphone. And they will talk about college students who blow their student loans, not on tuition but with online gambling.
Those are all issues for a debate and that is a debate that Congress should have. These issues should not be decided by one, unelected lawyer in the Department of Justice.
The Trump administration should step up and immediately repudiate the opinion from the Obama-era Office of Legal Counsel. But more importantly, members of Congress should remind the Department of Justice that they make the laws.