James Sensenbrenner Jr, member of Congress and chairman of the Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security and Investigations, has written to deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein this week outlining his concerns over the legalization of US sports betting. In his letter he harbored fears, particularly, over mobile gaming and what he suggested would be an influx of criminal activity related to sports betting.
He wrote: “On September 27, the Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security and Investigations, which I chair, held a hearing titled ‘Post-PASPA: An Examination of Sports Betting in America’. After hearing from a panel of experts representing a broad range of positions related to sports betting, it is clear that Congress has work to do to ensure the public is protected, and any potential for exploitation by criminals is minimized in this post-PASPA era.
“The panel presented what I see as three viable options for Congress: (1) re-enact a federal ban on sports betting; (2) defer completely to the states to regulate the activity; or, (3) adopt uniform federal standards.”
He added that the worst option for Congress is to do nothing, but conceded that it will take likely months, if not years to enact comprehensive legislation.
Sensenbrenner’s main area of concern is wagering on the internet and federal interpretation of the Wire Act. He noted: “During the hearing, we heard testimony that a significant portion of sports betting is projected to occur over the internet on mobile devices. Such wagering – combined with the issuance of an opinion by the previous administration’s Office of Legal Counsel reinterpreting the Wire Act – will allow for exploitation of internet gambling by criminal and terrorist organizations to obtain funds, launder money, and engage in identity theft and other cybercrimes.
“As you are well aware, until 2011, the federal government consistently interpreted the Wire Act to prohibit all forms of gambling involving interstate wire transmissions – including over the internet. Reversing its own longstanding interpretation, the Office of Legal Counsel issued a legal opinion stating the Wire Act only bans sports betting and does not apply to online gambling.”
Sensenbrenner, pushing for action, stated: “To protect the American public and limit the ability of nefarious organizations from exploiting internet gambling, I believe Congress will develop a legislative response to the issues created by the Supreme Court’s decision striking down PASPA. Since Congress is examining the totality of sports betting in light of the PASPA decision, it would be beneficial to have answers to the following questions:
Do you support the 2011 Office of Legal Counsel’s opinion that reinterpreted the Wire Act to permit online gambling?
What guidance, if any, is the Department of Justice currently providing to states that are entering the sports betting realm?
What issues do you foresee in sports betting (both legal and illegal) if Congress does not act in response to the Supreme Court’s PASPA decision?
In his letter to Rosenstein, Sensenbrenner concluded by saying he looks forward to working with the department to prevent unlicensed and illegal gambling sites from taking advantage of vulnerable populations. Some might cynically argue that those concerns should have been addressed already, and much sooner, given that gambling with offshore internet companies is hardly unheard of. Looking at it from another angle, he’s talking about a sector of gaming that is actually being brought into the light by reputable operators who place integrity and social responsibility at the core of their offer. Sports wagering should, in reality and without the connivance of bad actors, become a far safer and better regulated activity than ever before, without federal oversight. Under the old, federally instigated, PASPA regime unregulated sports betting in the US could be compared to eating ortolans. It was a guilty pleasure best enjoyed under a shroud of secrecy. Post-PASPA, we’d like to think that’s becoming less the case.