NJ Online Gambling Biz Monitors Jeff Sessions Anti-Gaming Rhetoric

New Jersey’s slowly growing online gambling market, the healthiest segment of the state’s overall legalized gaming market, is on alert of sorts after comments made during Tuesday’s US Senate confirmation of wannabe US attorney general Jeff Sessions.

Sessions, an anti-gambling Southern Republican, a former Senator from Alabama himself, is the Trump Administration’s choice to helm the Department of Justice, should he be confirmed.  And if that eventuality occurs, then New Jersey and other pro-online states will have to worry whether Sessions will attempt to undo the landmark 2011 DOJ member, signed by then-USAG Eric Holder, that restricted the reach of the old 1961 Wire Act to sports betting only.

Sessions was questioned on the topic on Tuesday by another anti-gambling Southern Republican, Lindsey Graham.  Graham, himself beholden to Nevada casino magnate Sheldon Adelson — and a former sponsor of the Adelson-funded “RAWA” {Restoration of America’s Wire Act) legislation, wants Sessions to take an anti-gambling stance.  Here’s the exchange of the topic the two had on Tuesday:

Lindsey Graham: About the Wire Act, what’s your view of the… Obama’s Administration’s interpretation of the Wire Act law to allow online video poker, or poker… gambling?

Jeff Sessions: Senator Graham, 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. 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 and it seemed to me to be an unusual… .

Graham: Would you revisit it?

Sessions: I would revisit it and I would make a decision about it based on careful study and I haven’t gone that far to give you an opinion today.

That’s actually about as far as Sessions could dare go on the topic, but the statement that he’s “shocked at the [Holder] memorandum gives New Jersey and a handful of other pro-online-gaming states cause for concern.

What happens if Jeff Session is indeed confirmed as US Attorney General, and he indeed goes on to take a strong anti-gambling stance?  Restoring the old Wire Act’s reach would be bad enough, and it would likely trigger a legal fight by several US states, including New Jersey.  Those states have already established online-gambling footprints, spending to develop a nascent market, and any forced rollback is likely to be met by hordes of state-hired, injunction-seeking lawyers.

Let’s take that scenario another step.  What happens if RAWA-styled legislation is enacted, regardless of whether Sessions is installed as the US’s new Attorney General?  One possibility is that the handful of US states that have already approved online lottery-ticket sales, or online poker (such as New Jersey and two other states), or online casino games (also New Jersey), or even daily fantasy sports, might all have to have “grandfather” exemptions written into a new RAWA bill.

But that’s not really what RAWA’s backers want.  They want to shut down all the online gambling that several US states have already started.  And even though, as the saying goes, it’s hard to unring a bell, it’s a battle that’s likely waiting to occur.

There’s also a bit of a “sword of Damocles” flavor to this; enacting a RAWA bill that approaches an across-the-board prohibition on almost all online gambling would add plenty of fuel to the “commandeering” argument that New Jersey is already putting forth in its ongoing legal battle over sports betting.  Five other US states have already filed amicus curiae (friend of the court) briefs supporting New Jersey’s attempt to get the case heard by the US Supreme Court.  Now imagine if a RAWA bill was passed and signed into law.  The number of US states that would either be directly affected by RAWA’s commandeering principles would be in the dozens.  Gambling matters are supposed to be left to the individual US states, no matter what these federal bills seek to do.

If RAWA’s backers, supported by an anti-gambling Jeff Sessions as USAG, try to jam the bill through, they may have indeed bitten off more than they could chew.  Sheldon Adelson’s tens of billions can buy a lot of protection and dirty deals, but he still can’t buy off the entire US, not that he hasn’t tried already.