Congressman Urges DOJ to Weigh in on Sports Betting

Congressman Urges DOJ to Weigh in on Sports Betting

By Ken Edwards, 29 November 2018

Congressman Urges DOJ to Weigh in on Sports BettingA U.S. Republican Congressman out of Wisconsin, Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wisconsin), believes the states don’t have the understanding, skills, nor intelligence to decide on their own sports betting legislation and make informed decisions.

This month, Congressman Sensenbrenner penned a letter to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, requesting Federal Department of Justice (DOJ) guidance on how to proceed in the current sports betting landscape.

Congressman Sensenbrenner’s frustration had its genesis back in September, when the House Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security and Investigations, which he chairs, heard public testimony on sports betting.

After the conclusion of the hearing in September, Sensenbrenner announced ‘that for Congress to do nothing is the worst possible choice’. By writing his public letter this month, Sensenbrenner has re-addressed the issue, although he stopped just short of recommending federal oversight.

In his letter to Rosenstein, Sensenbrenner explained his position:

“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 transmissions over the internet. Revising 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.”

What the Congressman Wants

Whether it was Sensenbrenner’s intention-or-not, it appears clear that the Wisconsin Congressman has misunderstood that online sports betting is still sports betting, falling within that broad reinterpretation. The Federal prohibition on related international and interstate betting transactions remains as it always did. It is now up to each state to make up their own minds.

Since mid-May 2018 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that a federal ban against the activity was null and void, many States have either started looking into sports betting legislation or have already passed laws to allow the pastime to take place.

Regardless, Sensenbrenner’s letter appears to be suggesting to the current DOJ administration to provide answers to three direct questions:

  • Does the DOJ support the 2011 Office of Legal Counsel’s opinion that reinterpreted the Wire Act to permit online-gambling?
  • What legislative guidance, if any, is the DOJ providing to states that are newly engaged in the sports betting sphere?
  • What issues has the DOJ foreseen with sports betting (both legal and illegal) if Congress does not become involved as a response to the Supreme Court’s decision to lift the Federal ban on sports betting?


There seems to be ulterior motives at play.

Is Sensenbrenner looking to call for bans to all forms of online gambling? Sensenbrenner has also aired his concerns about identity theft, money laundering and terrorism.

It appears that the Congressman is simply unable to adapt and refuses to accept the current legal landscape. Congressman Sensenbrenner closes his letter by writing that he is;

 “…..looking forward to working with to prevent illegal online gambling sites from taking advantage of vulnerable populations.”

Impeding and ultimately defeating all forms of illegal gambling is commendable goal, however, it does sound a lot like Congressman Sensenbrenner additionally wants to defeat and overcome legal online gambling.

Congressman Sensenbrenner’s Claims Fact Checked

Congressman Sensenbrenner’s theory that organized crime and terrorists will use online gambling to launder money is a mis-interpretation of an old FBI letter from early this century, which originated from an ad-hoc Congressional information request about the possible dangers.

That letter is often quoted as the ultimate source of the dangers of online gambling. Of course, the FBI said no such thing, and that letter makes no mention of terrorists or terrorism. The FBI has never linked online gambling to either nefarious persons or activities.

No links have ever been credibly established. Even a congressional task force on terror financing never established a connection.

It seems that this is nothing more than fear mongering from the Congressman, and if he is opposed to legal betting of all types, we believe that he will receive more respect by simply saying so directly.