Adelson Bought DOJ Wire Act Decision, Likely Plans to Solidify It
One only needs to google any investigation into casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson to know that he has his hands in many cookie jars. And most often, he is willing to buy the cookies, the jars, and everything around them to make sure no one else ever gets those cookies.
When Adelson wanted to stop the growth of online gambling in America, he did everything possible to push for an outright ban. But as the attempt to pass a law continued to fail, Adelson did what was necessary to achieve a version of his goal. That was the Department of Justice decision published earlier this month, not exactly a new law but something to push his agenda forward.
There is evidence to show that Adelson influenced that DOJ decision. And while there is no evidence – yet – to prove the mogul is doing more to ensure that online gambling is stopped in other ways as well, it is a safe bet that he is.
Failed RAWA Attempts
When the DOJ’s Office of Legal Counsel published a decision regarding the scope of the Wire Act in 2011, Adelson went to work. He was determined to offer substantial contributions to enough members of Congress that they would be able to pass a bill entitled the Restoration of America’s Wire Act (RAWA).
— iji Law (@ijiLaw) August 23, 2018
Adelson helped fund the reelection and presidential campaigns of Senators Lindsey Graham and Marco Rubio, as well as the Congressional reelection campaigns of Representatives Jason Chaffetz, Charlie Dent, and Brian Fitzpatrick and Senator Tom Cotton. All of them made efforts to pass RAWA as its own bill, attach it to must-pass legislation, and/or insert its language into must-pass budget measures.
Graham went so far as to speak to now-former-US Attorney General Jeff Sessions about overturning the 2011 Wire Act decision, but Sessions ultimately had to recuse himself from all Adelson-related issues due to his revealed ties with the billionaire. And Graham was prepared to address the subject with the latest Attorney General nominee, William Barr.
In the end of the 2016 presidential campaign, Adelson also ended up financially donating to the Donald Trump campaign in the hopes of having an ally in the White House. While Adelson has been able to influence Trump on numerous issues, such as pro-Israel actions and opening Japan to casinos, Trump proved ineffectual when it came to online gambling.
Adelson’s money was working but not enough to achieve success with RAWA.
Successful Influence of DOJ Officials
As it turned out, Adelson had multiple plans. If his paid-lobbyists-serving-as-Congressmen couldn’t get the job done, he would contact the DOJ himself.
The headline of the @WSJ story says it all, and no one who has followed this issue is the least bit surprised "DOJ reversal on online gambling tracked memo from Adelson lobbyist" https://t.co/H3e4j6SGkY
— Poker Alliance (@ppapoker) January 19, 2019
Days after the new DOJ decision was announced to reverse the 2011 opinion, Adelson’s role in the move became clearer. The Wall Street Journal reported that Adelson’s lobbyists had contacted “top officials in the Justice Department” in April 2017, months before Sessions was even pressured by media reports to recuse himself but only months after Obama Administration officials departed.
A lobbyist for Adelson sent a memo to said top officials at the DOJ’s Criminal Division “arguing that a 2011 opinion that benefited online gambling was wrong.” Those officials forwarded it to the Office of Legal Counsel and “asked attorneys there to reexamine their stance” on the Wire Act. The Wall Street Journal knew of documents and conducted interviews with “people familiar with the matter.”
Who was the lobbyist in question?
According to Wall Street Journal reporters, the information contained within the memo was compiled in February 2017 by a law firm headed by Charles Cooper, a former senior DOJ official and former lobbyist for the Coalition to Stop Internet Gambling, which was Adelson’s personal organization established as a face for his anti-online gambling efforts. That memo was then given to Darryl Nirenberg, another lobbyist paid by Adelson with connections within the DOJ to whom he delivered the memo. Nirenberg was also the author of the original RAWA in 2014, which was then known as the Gambling Control Act.
The DOJ denied that Adelson or any outside influence played a role in its latest Wire Act decision. A senior Justice Department official told the Wall Street Journal that the “OLC’s regular processes were followed and that there was no outside pressure to produce a specific conclusion.”
@ByronTau Great WSJ story. You note that a senior DoJ official said "there was no outside pressure to produce a specific conclusion.” Would be curious about internal pressure–specifically from Sessions, when he was there, given his connection to Cooper… https://t.co/cgu3WdJGwH
— michelleminton (@michelleminton) January 22, 2019
However, other DOJ officials also confirmed that they “were in possession of the legal analysis from Mr. Adelson’s team.” And some of the arguments in the latest DOJ opinion were clearly similar to those in Cooper’s memo.
Solidifying His Wire Act Win
The DOJ decision revealed in January – but written in early November 2018 – was a shock to the online gambling community and prompted analysts to opine about its potential effects. Some have predicted the beginning of the end of online poker and casino games in America, while others believe the issue will end up in the courts before any action is taken.
IMO articles about potential DoJ prosecutions miss the point. Sites won't run afoul of the DoJ because they won't be able to. I predict states will go to courts for relief and I hope the courts do the right thing, but we can expect Adelson to be there, too.
— Rich Muny 🇺🇸 (@RichMuny) January 19, 2019
Meanwhile, US Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein put a 90-day delay on implementation of the new opinion and requested that the DOJ Criminal Division’s Organized Crime and Gang Session review the decision and approve changes to the interpretation of the Wire Act.
To Adelson, this means his victory is anything but secure.
This also means that he is likely working other angles to ensure that RAWA becomes law. Adelson is likely asking more members of Congress to put RAWA wherever possible – in a must-pass piece of legislation, alongside irrelevant but important or controversial bills, or maybe even in a budget resolution that will prevent another government shutdown in February.
Many online gambling analysts say that online poker and gambling fans have little to worry about with regard to the new Wire Act decision becoming the law of the land. Skeptics (like this author) believe that Adelson is working hard behind the scenes to make certain that there will be further and more substantial actions to officially outlaw online gambling in America.