GOP casino magnate Sheldon Adelson bought and paid for Donald Trump's 2016 campaign to the tune of more than $20 million, and now Adelson is getting his reward as the Trump Justice Department has quietly issued new guidelines all but putting an end to online gambling and interstate lotteries like Powerball and Mega Millions, leaving brick-and-mortar casinos like Adelson's empire as the only game in town.
The Justice Department’s decision last month to release a legal opinion that could further restrict Internet gambling is drawing fire from state attorneys general and former department officials amid questions about casino magnate Sheldon Adelson’s long-standing push for the move.
The legal opinion, which was posted online during the partial government shutdown, reversed a 2011 Justice Department interpretation of the Wire Act that effectively gave the states a green light to authorize lotteries and other forms of online gambling.
The change was long sought by Adelson, a major Republican donor who spent more than $20 million to back Donald Trump’s campaign in 2016.
“We can see no good reason for the Justice Department’s sudden reversal,” Josh Shapiro, attorney general of Pennsylvania, and Gurbir S. Grewal, attorney general of New Jersey, wrote this week in a joint letter to acting U.S. attorney general Matthew G. Whitaker and Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein.
In their letter, the Democratic attorneys general said they were concerned by reports that the drafting of the new opinion “followed substantial lobbying by outside groups.”
The opinion released Jan. 14 by the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) echoed arguments outlined in a memo written by the law firm of Washington attorney Charles Cooper, who was working as part of an Adelson-backed lobbying team. Cooper’s memo reached the OLC in 2017, officials confirmed.
Cooper himself is a former head of the OLC and has worked as a personal lawyer for former attorney general Jeff Sessions.
In an interview, Cooper confirmed that he lobbied Justice Department officials to reconsider its previous opinion on the Wire Act and expressed satisfaction that his memo resonated with his successor.
The opinion “accords entirely with the analysis my firm undertook and I shared with the DOJ,” said Cooper, who compared his memo to law review articles and opinion pieces that serve as research material for department lawyers.
Justice Department officials said the process that led to the new opinion was independent and in keeping with department norms and guidelines.
“The 23-page opinion reflects the Office of Legal Counsel’s best judgment of the law, and the accusation that the opinion was shaped by any outside interest is baseless and offensive,” said Nicole Navas Oxman, a Justice Department spokeswoman.
[Justice Department issues opinion that could further restrict online gambling]
The opinion centers on an interpretation of the Wire Act, a 1961 statute that makes it a criminal offense to transmit information to promote interstate or foreign wagering.
In September 2011, the Obama Justice Department issued an opinion that only sports betting fell within the purview of the act.
The reversal of that decision could have an impact on interstate lotteries and has upset state officials, who have come to rely on lottery revenue to fund key programs.
We'll see how this shakes out, but it could be a major disaster for states, infrastructure, and anyone who isn't a casino owner.