Amendment to Defund DOJ Wire Act Enforcement Not Taken Up by Rules Committee Due to ‘Technical Error’

Posted on: June 20, 2019, 05:51h. 

Last updated on: June 24, 2019, 08:32h.

An amendment on Capitol Hill that would have blocked funding to the Department of Justice specifically for the enforcement of its new interpretation of the Wire Act did not go to the House floor for a full vote.

Wire Act
US Rep. Hank Johnson’s amendment briefly signalled a possible push back by Congress against the DOJ’s Wire Act interpretation, but it was not taken up by the Rules Committee due to a technical error in filing. (Image: YouTube)

As first spotted by Online Poker Report, the amendment was tagged onto an appropriations bill on Tuesday, HR 3055 — the Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act — which is directly responsible for funding the Justice Department.

The amendment was sponsored by Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Georgia) and cosponsored by Reps. Sanford Bishop (D-Georgia) and Andy Barr (R-Kentucky). Presumably, the three lawmakers are seeking to protect the lottery industries of their respective states, which have been jeopardized by the DOJ’s opinion that the Wire Act’s prohibitions include all forms of gambling and not just sports betting.

The amendment stated:

None of the funds made available by this Act may be used to enforce the Department of Justice Office of Legal Counsel memorandum entitled ‘Reconsidering Whether the Wire Act Applies to Non-Sports Gambling.

HR 3055 was heard by the House Rules Committee on Wednesday, which passed the bill to the Committee of the Whole, but the amendment was not called for a vote and was later listed as “withdrawn.”

But a spokesman for Rep. Johnson’s office told that the amendment had not been withdrawn, but was not considered by the Rules Committee due to “technical error” in filing.

“This particular amendment will have to be reintroduced either later in this Congress — the 116th — or the next Congress, 117th,” the spokesman said.

Congress Resistance Fizzles Out

The amendment ignited short-lived excitement over the possibility that Congress might deliver a second body blow to the DOJ over its controversial Wire Act opinion, following a federal court judgment at the beginning of the month that contradicted the new stance.

The DOJ’s Office of Legal Counsel published an opinion in January that reversed an Obama era opinion that paved the way for state-sanctioned online lotteries and other forms of gaming.

The Wire Act is 1961 law that concerns itself with interstate gambling and was enacted in a bid to target the revenues of organized crime.

In asserting that it applies to gambling other than sports betting, the DOJ threatens the online lottery operations of states across America and the tax revenues they generate, as well as the online gaming markets of the handful of states that had regulated online casino and poker.

There are concerns that criminal charges could be brought against operators where the transmission of gambling information across state lines is merely incidental and otherwise legal under state laws.

DOJ Planning Appeal?

After the New Hampshire Lottery Commission sued the federal government over the opinion, a US district judge in New Hampshire found that “based on the text, context, and structure of the Wire Act, I … conclude that the Act is limited to sports gambling.”

On June 12, the DOJ extended a moratorium to federal attorneys and investigators ordering them to refrain from enforcing the new opinion of the Wire Act until 2020, which suggests it plans to appeal the ruling before that date.

Many believe the reversal of the opinion was performed as a favour to LVS chairman and Republican megadonor Sheldon Adelson, who for many years bankrolled a legislative push for a federal ban on online gambling.

The push failed to gather significant support in Congress for its trammelling of states’ rights.

NB. This article was updated to reflect that the amendment had not technically been withdrawn.