Loretta Lynch Unlikely to Revisit Wire Act Interpretation

Posted on February 18th, 2015 by Alana Markoff
Loretta Lynch Wire Act gambling

Loretta Lynch said she will look at the Wire Act if confirmed as attorney general, but is unlikely to overrule the current interpretation of the law. (Image: NBCNews.com)

Loretta Lynch may not be in a position to stop efforts to ban online poker at the federal level, but the attorney general nominee has at least made it clear that she’s unlikely to put an end to state-level Internet gambling on her own.

In written statements sent to the Senate Judiciary Committee as a follow up to her confirmation hearings, Lynch said that she was very unlikely to do anything to overturn a 2011 opinion from the Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) which found that the Wire Act of 1961 only applies to sports betting, and not to other forms of gambling.

Lynch said that she would be happy to review the memo that opened the doors for states to regulate online poker and casino games.

But she also said that opponents of that decision should not expect her to do anything about it.

“It is my understanding…that OLC opinions are rarely reconsidered,” Lynch said in a statement. “Unless in the course of my review I conclude that OLC’s interpretation of the Wire Act is unreasonable, I do not intend to take any action to suspend or revoke the opinion.”

Graham, Feinstein Ask Gambling Questions 

Online gambling wasn’t one of the major topics at Lynch’s confirmation hearings, but she did field a few questions on the topic from Senator Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina), a possible 2016 presidential hopeful who has publically opposed the spread of Internet gambling.

In the follow-up questions, both Graham and Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-California) asked questions in the hopes of getting Lynch’s views on Internet gaming.

“I have long been concerned about Internet gambling,” Feinstein wrote in her follow-up questioning. She then asked if Lynch would commit to reexamining the OLC interpretation of the Wire Act, and received the same answer: it would be reviewed, but a reconsideration was unlikely.

It was Graham’s questioning, however, that was of most interest to online poker players. Lynch confirmed at several points that she understood that the OLC opinion held that the Wire Act “does not extend to interstate transmissions of wire communications that do not relate to a sporting event or contest,” though she did extend an offer to help lawmakers who wanted to craft legislation dealing with online gambling.

“If confirmed, I will read the opinion and if it articulates a reasonable interpretation of the law, I would welcome the opportunity to work with you and other Members of Congress to address concerns about online gambling through legislation,” Lynch wrote.

Lynch Says OLC Acted Appropriately

Graham also questioned whether it was appropriate for OLC to essentially make a major change to online gambling laws without the consultation of Congress, state and local officials, or public input. Lynch responded by saying that OLC did exactly what it was designed to do in this case.

“Pursuant to delegation, OLC exercises the Attorney General’s authority to provide the President and executive agencies with advice on questions of law,” Lynch wrote. “Because OLC helps the President fulfill his constitutional obligation to take care that the law be faithfully executed, it is my understanding that the Office strives to provide an objective assessment of the law using traditional tools of statutory interpretation. These tools would not include seeking the views of Congress, the public, law enforcement or state and local officials.”

Lynch’s confirmation vote has been pushed back two weeks as Republican Senators have expressed some concerns about her nomination. However, she will only need four GOP votes to be confirmed as the next attorney general, a hurdle that still seems likely to be cleared.

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