Minnesota Declares War on Gambling

“We see headlines like this coming from communist China, but never expect that it could happen here in Minnesota,” Matt Werden, the Minnesota state director for the non-profit Poker Players Alliance, said in a statement. “This is about keeping the Internet free of censorship and ensuring that law abiding citizens can enjoy a game of Texas Hold ‘Em in the comfort of their own homes, whether it’s online or with a group of friends.”

 

Minnesota has entered the war on gambling by order of the Alcohol and Gambling Enforcement Division (AGED), directing the main Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to block access to more than 200 suspected online gambling sites located around the world. “We are putting site operators and Minnesota online gamblers on notice and in advance,” says John Williams, director of AGED. “Disruption of these sites cash flow will negatively impact their business models. State residents with online escrow accounts should be aware that access to their accounts may be jeopardized and their funds in peril.” (“iMEGA to get involved in Minnesota Gambling Matter“)

Now I am not a fan of gambling. In fact, even with nearly monthly visits to Las Vegas for business and other travel, I can think of less than a handful of times I have actually gone near a slot machine, and I do not know enough about card games or other games to even waste the time at a table. On the other hand, I adamantly am opposed government censorship of media. I have lived in China, Mongolia, and other countries where control of the media is absolute. The government lets the public see what it wants the public to see or hear, and that changes the way people think. Censorship is about the same as propaganda, as censorship is the same as thought leadership.

Minnesota even went one step further by refusing to make the list of blocked and banned sites public. The main ISPs which received the order to block the gambling sites have not publically comments on the order, which would indicate the state of Minnesota has pressured them into some level of gag order on the AGED directive.

“Again, you have an example of state government exceeding their authority and operating in secret to deny citizens of their freedom to use the Internet as they see fit in the privacy of their own homes,” said Joe Brennan Jr., chairman of iMEGA (Interactive Media Entertainment and Gaming Association).

Minnesota is justifying their order to ISPs by referencing the federal “Wire Act of 1961.”

The Interstate Wire Act of 1961, often called the Federal Wire Act, is a United States federal law prohibiting the operation of certain types of betting businesses in the United States. It begins with the text:

Whoever being engaged in the business of betting or wagering knowingly uses a wire communication facility for the transmission in interstate or foreign commerce of bets or wagers or information assisting in the placing of bets or wagers on any sporting event or contest, or for the transmission of a wire communication which entitles the recipient to receive money or credit as a result of bets or wagers, or for information assisting in the placing of bets or wagers, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than two years, or both.[1]

The law has been interpreted by some, including the Department of Justice, to mean that all online gambling is illegal. However, U.S. Courts have ruled to the contrary. Also, many believe the phrase “in the business of” means only businesses are affected. Some argue that the law only covers sports betting, and not other forms of gambling such as poker.

The U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that the Wire Act applies only to sports betting and not other types of online gambling.[2] The Supreme Court has not ruled on the meaning of the Federal Wire Act as it pertains to online gambling. (Wikipedia)

As noted in the Wikipedia article, this law has been overturned by the courts relative to online gambling. Minnesota has decided to interpret the law differently, and has written very strict laws controlling Internet gambling, with harsh penalties for those caught gambling online:

“Minnesota law presently prohibits internet gambling.
See Minn. Stat. Ann. §§ 609.75 subd. 2 & 5, 609.76 (1987 & Supp. 1998). In fact, the Minnesota Attorney General aggressively targets illegal gambling including online internet gambling establishments. The attorney general has stated that
persons outside of Minnesota who transmit information via the Internet knowing that information will be disseminated in Minnesota are subject to jurisdiction in Minnesota courts for violations of state criminal and civil laws. It is also a crime for an entity to “intentionally participate in the income of a gambling place.” Minn. Stat.§ 609.76 subd. 1(2). Minnesota law also makes it a crime to the place a bet with a gambling operation. Moreover, any person making a bet is guilty of a misdemeanor. As a result, a Minnesota resident could be charged with a crime for merely making a bet out of curiosity. the law also allows prosecutors to seize the instrument of the crime meaning the bettors computer. Making such a bet may result in a jail sentence of up to 90 days and $1000 fine
.” (Minnesota Lawyers)

Combining Minnesota’s interpretation of the federal Wire Act of 1961 with the above statute controlling gambling in general makes for a very rigid system.

Now for the hypocrisy of Minnesota’s stand on gambling.

  • Travelocity listed 63 daily flights heading to Las Vegas from the Minneapolis/St. Paul airport with one stop or less. While some of this might be business travel, it is obvious the people of Minnesota like Las Vegas.
  • Minnesota has 18 Indian casinos located throughout the state offering table games, slots, and bingo
  • Minnesota operates a state lottery with more than $140 million in prizes

    Win a trip to Vegas in our online Hold-Em game!

    Win up to $100,000 with our Minnesota Hold-Em Championship Poker scratch ticket or play for some great poker prizes including a trip to Las Vegas in our online interactive Hold-Em game at Lucky, MN!

Note in the Above ad – from the official Minnesota State Lottery website, that they have an “interactive Hold-Em game?”

If Minnesota is to go through with blocking gambling sites from the Internet, we have to ask what is next? Making flights from MSP to Las Vegas or Atlantic City illegal unless the travelers get a gaming pass from the state? Forcing ESPN to block their poker competition segments from viewing by Minnesota residents? Banning sales of playing cards within the state? Unless of course the materials are officially licensed and sanctioned by the state of Minnesota?

I am very disappointed at the state of Minnesota, which by the way is my home state.

—-

John Savageau, Long Beach, CA http://www.linkedin.com/in/johnsavageau

About johnsavageau
Another telecom junkie who has been bouncing around the international communications community for most of the past 35 years.

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