Last week the Minnesota Department of Safety authored a letter to 11 Internet Service Providers containing a list of 200 assorted gambling websites, including a number of prominent poker companies. The ISPs were ordered to block Minnesota residents from accessing these sites, under the pretext that they were in breach of state law. In the last few days one of the industry’s largest trade groups iMEGA have begun to fight back.
The letter, which arrived via the state’s Alcohol and Gaming Enforcement Department, was sent to ISPs such as Comcast, DirecTV, and Verizon. It presented a 200 strong list of online gambling sites, along with the claim that they were breaching the Wire Act of 1961. Sites named in the list include PartyPoker, Bodog, and Full Tilt.
iMEGA have responded with a letter of their own, addressed to every ISP targeted by Minnesota. “iMEGA wants you to know that it believes that the Notice lacks any legitimate foundation in the law and requests that you not block access to the websites identified,” it reads. The trade group also contend that the Wire Act, developed in 1961, does not apply to internet activities. Finally, they note that none of the sites listed are located in Minnesota and so do not fall under the jurisdiction of the Department of Safety.
Also contained within the solicitation were strongly worded legal contentions to the state’s activities. iMEGA believes any move to ban online gambling sites in Minnesota would be unconstitutional on two counts. A breach of the Commerce Clause is invoked, as well as the First Amendment. iMEGA notes that many of these sites offer blogs and chat rooms, and restricting access to them would breach laws governing free speech. This is supported by the claim that “merely visiting the sites and perusing their content is not illegal in Minnesota.”
The legal challenges alluded to have now been made a reality, with the news that iMEGA is suing the Director of the Minnesota Alcohol and Gaming Enforcement Department, John Willems. iMEGA Chairman Joe Brennan Jr. announced that, “We filed this to first, get MN DPS to rescind their order to the ISPs, and second, to put any other state on notice that a similar action will be contested in court.” The group have a positive track record in combating these kind of cases, having successfully defeated Kentucky’s attempts to seize a raft of gambling URLs on similar grounds.
The composition of list of sites has come under scrutiny, with its author John Willems being forced to concede that it was essentially a “random sampling” of companies. Rigurous analysis of the list has revealed that, of the 200 sites listed, only 44 are actually accessible by residents of Minnesota.