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Poker News | Gambling and the Law

Challenges to Minnesota Online Gaming Site Block Attempt

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On April 29, the Minnesota Department of Public Safety (DPS) Alcohol and Gambling Enforcement Division (AGED) took a drastic move that took its residents and the gaming community by utter surprise. It notified 11 national and regional telecommunications companies that they were to block all Minnesota residents from accessing any of a list of nearly 200 online gambling websites. But less than two weeks later, Minnesota has a fight on its hands at the hands of an internet rights organization and one of its own state representatives.

The actions of AGED were drastic. Quoting the 1961 Federal Wire Act and using that as a basis for the attempted censorship, the department threatened the national and regional telephone and internet service providers that if they did not block phone and internet access to the listed sites, they would be reported to the Federal Communications Commission and face federal non-compliance actions.

When Minnesota newspapers picked up the story, AGED Director John Willems told them, “In Minnesota, and for Minnesotans, the primary issues are legality, state self-governance, and accountability. In broader context, the long-running debate on online gambling continues to raise significant issues, including absence of policy and regulation, individual rights, societal impact, international fair-trade practices, and funding for criminal and terrorist organizations.”

The Interactive Media Entertainment & Gaming Association (iMEGA) immediately came out with a statement regarding the actions, noting that they were illegal and based on “shaky legal pretext.” More than just words, iMEGA was preparing to take several actions to challenge the Minnesota ban attempt.

First, on May 5, iMEGA sent letters to the telecommunications companies first contacted by AGED to inform them of their right to refuse compliance with the AGED order. The 1961 Wire Act was clarified as a federal law only not applicable to a state agency, and the blacklist was proven irrelevant, as some of the sites listed did not even accept business from United States residents and some were not even active companies.

The following day, iMEGA took further action by asking the U.S. District Court in Minneapolis to prevent DPS from enforcing its order. A lawsuit was filed against AGED director John Willems to prevent his actions from being enforced on the grounds that Minnesota lacked the authority to issue any such order and that it violated First Amendment free speech rights.

iMEGA chairman Joe Brennan Jr. said, “It’s our hope that Minnesota will recognize their error and drop their blocking order. Censoring internet access for Minnesota residents would establish a troubling precedent of government intrusion into the online world, and we just can’t allow that to happen.”

In addition to iMEGA’s actions, State Representative Pat Garofalo took a stance on the issue as well, almost immediately introducing legislation to bar DPS from forcing the telecommunications companies from blocking access to Minnesota residents. The bill would establish a framework wherein the DPS would be required to obtain legislative approval before attempting further similar actions.

Garofalo commented, “The Department of Public Safety has to have better things to do with their time than to go after a college kid in his dorm room or some guy sitting in his basement spending a couple of hours playing online poker. Demanding that a private-sector internet service provider block access to websites is not a proper function of our state government.”

No response has been forthcoming from DPS, AGED, or Willems at this time. But clearly, their intended censorship of online gambling websites is not going as smoothly as planned, as opposition is not only surfacing but acting to stop it.

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