The state of New Jersey has raised the stakes in its effort to protect its growing online casino gambling industry, which generates tens of millions of dollars annually for state coffers.
On Tuesday, the Garden State’s Attorney General announced a lawsuit over a Freedom of Information Act Request that the Department of Justice has so far ignored. New Jersey filed the request in early February to try to obtain any records of communications between the federal government and Las Vegas casino magnate Sheldon Adelson pertaining to the Wire Act. It’s not known whether any exist.
“After Adelson’s Coalition to Stop Internet Gambling was unable to persuade Congress to address the issue, then-U.S.-Attorney General Jeff Sessions agreed to look into it,” NJ AG Gurbir Grewal said in February. “The New Jersey FOIA request seeks information on any communications involving Adelson, his lobbyists, the White House, and DOJ regarding the relevant federal law and online gaming.”
The Wire Act, a 1961 law, was reinterpreted in January to make it so that any form of online gaming could be illegal if it involves any interstate activity, even if online gaming is legal at the state level. This states’ rights issue is still in the courts.
Adelson, a Republican mega donor and long-time online casino opponent, was unsuccessful during the Obama years at getting Congress to “restore” the Wire Act.
Then Donald Trump, a former Atlantic City casino developer, won the 2016 presidential election, and online poker has been in the crosshairs since he nominated Jeff Sessions to be his attorney general:
Among the various forms of online gambling, online poker is most at risk thanks to the Wire Act opinion because currently three states, New Jersey, Nevada, and Delaware, share online poker players, and arguably no single U.S. state could have an effective online poker industry without liquidity sharing.
The NJ lawsuit
Grewal filed the suit against the DOJ, alleging that it violated the 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.”
“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,” AG Grewal said in a statement. “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.”
The FOIA lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in New Jersey.
According to the Garden State, the DOJ confirmed it had received the FOIA request and that it would be expedited. That soon turned into apparent stonewalling — something the current administration has been accused of frequently of late. To date, the DOJ has provided no records in response to New Jersey’s request and provided no legal grounds for withholding the material, according to Grewal.
The odds appear slim that the DOJ will comply with the FOIA request, even in the face of a lawsuit. New Jersey will ultimately have to rely on the courts to prevail, but even then the FOIA might never be honored.