Judicial Watch, a conservative watchdog group, is pushing all-in on its quest to make records public from the Department of Justice’s 2011 reinterpretation of the Wire Act that essentially allowed states to legalize online gambling and poker.
The ruling, which took place under former Attorney General Eric Holder‘s leadership, said that the 1961 Wire Act and Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIEGA) of 2006 related only to wagering on sporting events, and that online gambling wasn’t necessarily prohibited.
According to a press release on the group’s website, Judicial Watch filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request last October seeking any and all records pertaining to the 2011 ruling. After the DoJ failed to respond and uphold its legal obligation, the group sued America’s primary federal law enforcement agency.
The lawsuit, titled “Judicial Watch v. US Department of Justice,” was filed in the US District Court for the District of Columbia, requesting that the court demand the DoJ to stop “unlawfully withholding records.”
In 2011, two states, Illinois and New York, requested that the Justice Department reinterpret the decades-old Wire Act so it could sell lottery tickets online. On December 23rd of that same year, the DoJ released its legal opinion, saying it found the Wire Act to only ban Internet sports betting, effectively granting the wishes of both states.
As obviously the 1961 Act was created long before the Internet was imagined, interpretation was all that could be hoped for in overriding the basic tenets of the act, which only referred to placing sports bets and wagers “via wire communication.”
The decision lifted a long-standing federal bar on Internet betting, a ruling that Judicial Watch claims has no legal merit. “The executive action ‘legalizing’ online gambling is another example of the Obama administration’s habit of placing politics above law,” Tom Fitton, Judicial Watch president said.
Fitton’s organization claims the Wire Act was only strengthened in 2006 by the UIGEA, and that Holder’s decision to reverse the law was one made for his own self-interest, saying the former attorney general was in close ties with several gambling companies at the time of the decision.
“When the Justice Department reverses its own interpretation of a federal statute so quickly and so completely, the American people have a right to know why,” Fitton said. “And given that the Justice Department is willing to violate federal records law rather than disclose information, Americans can presume corruption behind its decision to unilaterally legalize widespread Internet gambling.”
Of course, one possible motivator is Sheldon Adelson, the man funding the campaign to pass the Restoration of America’s Wire Act (RAWA) and send iGambling into federal prohibition. Though Adelson doesn’t have any direct ties to Judicial Watch, the GOP billionaire supporter knows its organization’s founder, attorney Larry Klayman, from their days together at Freedom’s Watch, a defunct lobbying group that was funded by the Republican Jewish Coalition.
However, Klayman is no longer involved with Judicial Watch following a 2003 run at the US Senate and subsequent lawsuit filed at his former organization for failing to fulfill his severance package.
So who is motivating the charge for Judicial Watch to go after a 2011 Internet gambling ruling when so many other pressing issues are on the table? It’s anyone’s guess, but there are strong feelings among iGaming proponents that Adelson’s hand can’t be far from the table.