Jeff Sessions, the senator from Alabama and Trump nominee for attorney general, professed himself to be “shocked” this week by a 2011 DOJ legal opinion that paved the way for regulated online gambling in the US.

Sessions was answering questions on Tuesday morning during his confirmation hearing, when online gambling opponent Senator Lindsey Graham (R- S Carolina) seized the opportunity to probe the prospective AG on his pet issue.

AG nominee Jeff Sessions would “revisit” DOJ interpretation of wire Act

Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions said Tuesday that the 2011 DOJ opinion on the Wire Act was “unusual” and that he would “revisit it and make an opinion based on careful study.” (Image: Huffington Post)

“Apparently, there is some justification or argument that can be made to support the Department of Justice’s [2011] position, but I did oppose it when it happened and it seemed to me to be unusual…,” Sessions said.

Would he revisit the position, as AG, asked Graham.

“I would revisit it and I will make a decision on it based on careful study,” Sessions replied. “I haven’t gone that far to give you an opinion today.”

Gambling Sessions

The 2011 decision was a formal legal opinion that the 1961 Federal Wire Act prohibited sports betting alone over the internet; ie, as opposed to casino gaming, poker or lotteries. The decision empowered New Jersey, Nevada and Delaware to legalize and regulate online gaming within their borders, and allowed a handful more states to adopt online lottery ticket sales.

Subsequent resistance to regulated gambling, spearheaded by Sheldon Adelson and his Coalition to Stop Internet Gambling, spawned the Restoration of America’s Wire Act (RAWA), legislation that would effectively ban online gambling at a federal level.

The bill, which was sponsored in 2015 by Graham, has failed to gain traction on Capitol Hill, largely because of its violation of states’ rights. But to hear the man most likely to become the next US AG declare, albeit indirectly, his support for a federal ban should be cause for concern.

Level of Threat

But John Pappas of the Poker Players Alliance, which has long lobbied against RAWA, is quietly confident that Sessions would never dare to tear down the online gambling industries of three states with one legal opinion. And others have questioned whether Session’s commitment to the RAWA cause is entirely wholehearted.

While he supported the push to combat online gambling in the nineties, he has, as a member of the US Senate, had every opportunity to get behind RAWA over the past few years, but he has not done so.   

“Any change to the 2011 decision would be a radical departure from the precedent given to the independent and legally-based opinions generated by the Office of Legal Counsel,” said Pappas.

“AG nominee Sessions says he will give it ‘careful study’ and I have no doubt that careful study of the decision will reaffirm what OLC, the courts and Congress already agree on: the Wire Act is limited to sports betting and states may regulate other form of internet gaming,” he added.