Tom Fitton Judicial Watch Wire Act lawsuit

Judicial Watch’s Tom Fitton says that people should “presume corruption” was behind the 2011 Wire Act interpretation by the Department of Justice. (Image: Judicial Watch)

Judicial Watch claims that “no one is above the law” in its logo, and the watchdog group is testing that theory with a lawsuit aimed at the Justice Department.

The Department of Justice (DOJ) has long maintained that its 2011 opinion on how the 1961 Wire Act should be interpreted was a routine decision that came in response to requests for clarity from two states interested in selling online lottery tickets.

But the conservative activist group is seeking more information on theat decision, and says that the DOJ hasn’t been cooperative so far.

Judicial Watch announced this week that they had filed a lawsuit against the DOJ, one that alleges the department has not cooperated with a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request filed last year.

The organization filed that request in October, seeking “any and all records concerning, regarding, or related to the December 23, 2011 ruling to legalize non-sports betting over the internet, including but not limited to any records on the legal basis for the ruling under the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006.”

According to the group, the DoJ was required to respond to them by February 18, but did not. That prompted a lawsuit to be filed in US District Court last month.

Opinion Found Wire Act Applied to Sports Betting Only

The 2011 opinion by the Department of Justice found that the Wire Act was only applicable to betting on sporting events, and not to all forms of gambling. That opened the door for states to regulate online casino games and poker, a move that three states have taken so far: New Jersey, Nevada, and Delaware.

However, those opposed to the spread of online gambling have long questioned the Justice Department’s decision, and Judicial Watch reiterated those questions in its press release about the lawsuit.

“The executive action ‘legalizing’ online gambling is another example of the Obama administration’s habit of placing politics above law,” said Tom Fitton, president of Judicial Watch. “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.

“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.”

Interpretation Agreed with Case Law

Not everyone agrees with the idea that the DOJ “reversed” the interpretation of the Wire Act in the way that critics claim. The idea that the Wire Act only applied to sports betting has been around since well before 2011, after all.

In a 2002 case, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals found that the Wire Act “concerns gambling on sporting events or contests” and that the Wire Act “does not prohibit non-sports internet gambling.”

However, the argument that the DOJ opinion was an unwarranted reversal of standing law remains as a chief argument for those who oppose the regulation of the online gambling industry in the United States. Chief among them is Las Vegas Sands CEO and Chairman Sheldon Adelson, who formed the Coalition to Stop Internet Gambling (CSIG) in an effort to prevent online gambling regulations from moving forward.

The most significant part of that effort has been the Restoration of America’s Wire Act (RAWA), a piece of legislation that would unambiguously ban most forms of online gambling throughout the United States. While the bill has been introduced both in the House and Senate, it has received very little movement in the current Congress.