U.S. Attorney General Recuses Himself From Online Poker Debate

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has recused himself from the debate on online poker due to a conflict of interest, a development that’s bound to reassure the industry. Session had hinted during his confirmation hearing earlier this year that he had been surprised by the Obama administration’s interpretation of the 1961 Wire Act and would be reviewing the decision.

Sessions’ conflict of interest came to light after news that a group known as the Coalition to Stop Internet Gambling had hired Charles Cooper as a lobbyist. Cooper was recently hired by Sessions as his personal lawyer, causing the conflict.

Backed by casino tycoon and Las Vegas Sands chairman Sheldon Adelson, the coalition has been long working to ban online gambling in America on the basis that it harms children and the poor by making online gambling easy to access. The Coalition is now asking the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) to re-visit the 2011 decision that resulted in Nevada, Delaware and New Jersey legalizing online gaming.

A recent federal filing by Cooper disclosed his lobbying work for the group. He stated that the application with the Department of Justice for the review was tied to a new Trump administration taking over this year. While the recusal of Session is unlikely to impact the lobbing work on the issue of the Wire Act interpretation, it eases out his personal involvement in the matter.

A reversal of the interpretation by the Department of Justice might not put a stop to efforts taking place in several states such as Pennsylvania and New York who want to legalize online gaming. However such a move is likely affect the operations in Nevada, New Jersey and Delaware.

Dennis Neilander, attorney and former chairman of the Nevada State Gaming Control Board said that in theory, the DOJ could initiate legal action against the companies operating in these states for having violated the terms of the act.

Pennsylvania is currently witnessing a major debate regarding a gambling expansion law. The state which is facing $3 billion budget gap hopes to collect $100 million in the first year in gaming licensing fees and taxes. However Las Vegas Sands which runs the Sands Bethlehem casino in Pennsylvania is against the decision.

Michael Barley, a lobbyist with Las Vegas Sands however said that the proposal to allow retail locations with liquor licenses to host gaming machines would be detrimental to casino revenues and cost jobs. The company has launched a $2 million campaign leveraging TV and radio advertising to oppose the move.