New Jersey Sues Justice Department over Online Poker
The New Jersey Attorney General’s Office filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Justice based on delays in Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests involving online gambling policies. The 2019 DOJ Opinion announced a new opinion in January on whether online poker and online casinos should be banned under the 1961 Wire Act.
New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal announced the lawsuit in a press release. Gurbir said the US Department of Justice “has violated the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) by failing to provide answers in response to New Jersey’s demand for any documents linking DOJ’s recent crackdown on state-sanctioned online gaming to the lobbying efforts of casino magnate Sheldon Adelson.”
Shortly after the DOJ opinion, the Wall Street Journal published allegations (paywall) that Sheldon Adelson was involved in decision making. The WSJ pointed out that the DOJ opinion mirrored language used by Adelson lobbyists on online poker.
Gurbir Grewal penned a letter to AG William Barr and Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein expressing his dismay at the new decision. Gurbir also asked for documents the DOJ used to form their opinion.
Wall Street Journal Report on Adelson’s Role
At the time, gaming media pointed out that the WSF report informed Gurbir Grewal’s requests. He wanted to prove whether Sheldon Adelson’s lobbyists helped write the DOJ opinion, or at least influenced the decision to an inappropriate level.
Grewal made a request for the DOJ’s documents on its online gambling opinion in March 2019. The DOJ informed New Jersey’s attorney general it received the request and promised an expedited reply. Expedited cased take place within 20 days of the request.
Two months later, Gurbir Grewal decided the Justice Department will not follow through on the request. Therefore, he’s launched a lawsuit to force US Attorney General Bill Barr to release the online poker documents.
Freedom of Information Requests
Congress passed the Freedom of Information Act in 1966 to assure the American public knew how leaders’ make policy decisions. Media outlets, watchdog groups, and politicians on both sides of the aisle used FOIA requests over the past 50+ years to shine light on officials’ actions.
American voters naturally believe the FOIA requests foster open government. The public views those who ignore such requests as having something to hide. Based on that logic, New Jersey’s AG filed a lawsuit to get the information via the court system.
New Jersey AG on Online Gambling
In defending his lawsuit, AG Gurbir Grewal said, “Online gaming is an important part of New Jersey’s economy, and the residents of New Jersey deserve to know why the Justice Department is threatening to come after an industry we legalized years ago.”
“It’s especially important that we figure out whether this federal crackdown is the result of a lobbying campaign by a single individual seeking to protect his personal business interests.”
Sheldon Adelson v. Online Poker
More than the WSJ article informed Gurbir Grewal’s lawsuit. Delaware, Nevada, and New Jersey launched the first legal and license US online poker and casino sites in 2013. A few months after New Jersey’s November 2013 rollout of gaming sites, Sheldon Adelson announced he would fund attempts to ban online card rooms and casinos.
At the time, Sheldon Adelson said he would spend “whatever it takes” to ban online poker in all 50 US states. That meant paying lobbyists to pressure members of the U.S. Congress. It also meant paying lobbyists to lobby key US state legislatures.
Coalition to Stop Internet Gambling
Sheldon Adelson also formed the Coalition to Stop Internet Gambling (CSIG), a public policy group designed for public campaigns against online poker. Adelson said he wanted to protect problem gamblers and underage gamblers — this from the man who’s made more money from gamblers than anyone in human history.
For nearly five years, Sheldon Adelson’s campaign achieved mixed success. He succeeded in keeping all but one other state from legalizing online gambling, yet failed to pass Restore America’s Wire Act (RAWA) in the US congress. That failure came despite several prominent and influential U.S. Senators supporting RAWA.
Though GOP senators largely led the policy battle, Republican activists like Grover Norquist and ex-US Rep. Ron Paul also led the battle against RAWA. Norquist, Paul, and Sen. Rand Paul all argued Adelson’s ban threatened state’s rights vis a vis the federal government’s growing power. The pro-online poker forces won, at least for a time.
2019 DOJ Opinion on Online Poker
All that changed in January 2019 when the US Justice Department changed an 8-year old opinion on online casinos and card sites. When it happened, everyone knew Sheldon Adelson was the key reason the opinion changed. Most poker players saw Adelson’s personal friendship with President Donald Trump as a key part of the equation.
Whether New Jersey’s lawsuit affects the ongoing debate remains in question. New Hampshire sued the DOJ over its online gaming laws. New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and over a dozen other states joined the lawsuit. The FOIA lawsuit might give lawyers in that case more proof that the DOJ opinion should be struck down. Months of legal battles will pass before the final endgame happens.