Is online gaming at risk under Trump’s Justice Department?
It isn't only marijuana activists worried about the change in direction at the U.S. Justice Department: Advocates for online gaming also worry their industry could be stopped in its tracks.
States such as New Jersey are allowed to have online gaming because in 2011 the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel determined the federal Wire Act restricted sports betting but not other gaming, such as online video poker.
That was under President Barack Obama. Among the critics of the interpretation was U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama – who is now the nominee for attorney general under President Donald Trump. Sessions’ nomination was advanced this week, but a full Senate vote to confirm him isn’t yet set.
In his confirmation hearing three weeks ago, Sessions told the Senate Judiciary Committee he’d re-examine the 2011 decision.
“I was shocked at the memorandum, I guess the enforcement memorandum, that the Department of Justice issued with regard to the Wire Act and criticized it,” Sessions said.
Sessions didn’t specifically say he’d move to prohibit online gaming when asked by U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who also opposes online gaming.
“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,” Sessions said. “And it seemed to me to be an unusual –”
“Would you revisit it?” Graham interrupted.
“I would revisit it and I would make a decision about it based on careful study,” Sessions said. “And I haven’t reached, gone that far to give you an opinion today.”
Given Sessions' history on the topic, gaming advocates are a bit worried.
In New Jersey last year, nearly 8 percent of casinos’ gaming revenues, or $197 million, came via the Internet. Assemblyman Vincent Mazzeo, D-Atlantic, said that equates to almost $30 million in taxes for the state.
“That would be a hardship for Atlantic City and New Jersey,” Mazzeo said about the prospect of prohibiting online gaming.
Online gaming started in New Jersey in late 2013. A research firm Tuesday projected it will grow an additional 17 percent in 2017, increasing the state’s tax collections to over $40 million, according to a NorthJersey.com report.
“With the problems that we’re having in Atlantic City, and New Jersey for that matter, I think it’s imperative that we urge the new administration to look at the Wire Act and understand what it means to our economy if this is prohibited,” Mazzeo said.
The Assembly Tourism, Gaming and the Arts Committee this week voted to advance a resolution urging the Trump administration and Congress not to block states from having online gaming.
Such resolutions carry no official weight, but Assemblyman Chris Brown, R-Atlantic, said they can be important nevertheless.
“This is an example of a resolution that some may say is just giving a type of false hope, but I would argue there are certain issues that are so important to us, not just in Atlantic County but throughout the state, that they are important to work towards,” Brown said.
At a Statehouse news conference Thursday, Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick, R-Union, said lawmakers should focus more attention on affordability issues such as school aid and housing and less on Trump, Washington politics and Gov. Chris Christie.
He said that criticism doesn’t apply to the gaming resolution but that it’s a more marginal issue.
“I think that New Jersey benefits from online gaming, and I don’t think it’s a waste of time. But I don’t think it’s a game-changer for the people of New Jersey. I think it’s an issue that we want to support, I suspect, because it’s something that we add to the tax revenues in our state,” Bramnick said.
“I don’t say that there’s absolutely nothing that was done. I say the substantial issues are not being done,” Bramnick said.
New Jersey and Delaware allow online gaming, and Nevada does but limits it to poker. Four states sell lottery tickets online, and nine states have legalized daily fantasy sports.