On April 29, it was announced that the Minnesota Department of Public Safety (DPS) Alcohol and Gambling Enforcement Division (AGED) sent instructions to all internet and telephone service providers to block nearly 200 online gambling websites. Within hours, the poker community and gaming rights organizations came out in force with statements of intent to fight the action and preserve the rights of the residents of Minnesota against censorship.
It was ESPN’s Andrew Feldman who first reached John Willems, Director of AGED, for further comment on the issue, and Willems attempted to explain the state’s intentions. Citing the 1961 Federal Wire Act that suddenly seems to apply to today’s online gaming industry, Willems said, “This is not a new thought, but how do we deal with it? Our intent is not to criminalize it or shut down sites that can operate in other locations. We just don’t want to have the criminal activity in Minnesota… It has been for many years declared illegal, and we’re just reflecting that today.”
Willems clarified that his agency is not seeking to prosecute players on the websites but simply notify them that their activities will cease. “We’re not seeking criminal actions,” he said, “just trying to discontinue illegal actions in Minnesota.” He went on to admit that the telecommunications companies on notice may not react positively to the order from AGED and seemed to realize that there may be a storm brewing. “There is a process for policy to be changed. [People should] reflect whether this will be something they want to do.”
The Poker Players Alliance released a statement about the attempted online gaming ban by the Minnesota DPS. The state director of the PPA, Matt Werden, said, “This isn’t simply a heavy-handed tactic by the government; this is a clear misrepresentation of federal law, as well as Minnesota law, used in an unprecedented way to try and censor the Internet. I know what U.S. Code they’re reading, but it is not illegal to play this great American pastime online, and we’re calling their bluff. The fact is, online poker is not illegal, it’s not criminal, and it cannot be forcibly blocked by a state authority looking to score some political points.”
Werden also promised, “The PPA will take any action necessary to make sure our members and the general public are aware of these oppressive and illegal actions, and to make sure the game of poker – in all its forms – is protected in the state of Minnesota.”
Also releasing a statement on the issue was the Interactive Media Entertainment & Gaming Association (iMEGA). “Again, you have an example of state government exceeding their authority and operating in secret to deny citizens their freedom to use the Internet as they see fit in the privacy of their own homes,” said Chairman Joe Brennan, Jr. “What is most concerning is the shaky legal pretext that Minnesota has used to fashion their order. There is simply no Federal law that exists that makes it illegal for all US citizens to gamble on the Internet. None.”
iMEGA was careful to point out that the 1961 Federal Wire Act refers only to telephones or telegraphs used to transmit wagers, and the United States Congress has never amended or updated the law to include the internet. With the organization’s recent success in the Kentucky State Court of Appeals to stop the Commonwealth from its attempt to seize 141 gaming-related domain names, iMEGA stopped short of saying that it will intervene in Minnesota but certainly has legal precedent on its side should they choose to pursue a case.
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