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Online Gambling May Be Coming

A recent opinion from the Office of Legal Counsel, advisors to the U.S. Attorney General, may be paving the way for legalized online gaming. The opinion does not deal specifically with legalizing online gaming sites; rather, the advisement focuses on federal prohibition of internet sales of state lottery tickets. The opinion specifically addressed the lawfulness of proposals by Illinois and New York to use the internet and out-of-state transaction processors to sell lottery tickets to in-state adults. The Justice Department was concerned that the Federal Wire Act, 18 U.S.C. 1084 may prohibit states from utilizing the internet for in-state transactions if the same transmissions cross state lines

The essence of the opinion is that the interstate transmission of wire communications pertaining to state authorized lotteries do not relate to a “sporting event or contest” to which the Wire Act applies. In a number of circles this is being touted as the forerunner to online interstate gaming.

From time to time internet sites have sprung up to permit or promote online gambling. Illegal gambling, often mob related, utilizes these sites to accept wagers that are charged to credit cards. A recent federal gambling prosecution in this state focused on local bookmakers who were taking action based upon the illegal online sites. Prosecuting the creators and those who maintain these sites is virtually impossible given the manner in which the sites are created.

For decades Connecticut had taken a paternalistic approach to its prohibition against gambling. It wasn’t until the early 70’s when the Lottery was first created that this state first abandoned its puritanical view of gambling. Early decisions by our Supreme Court looked upon gambling as an evil that lured the wage earner to risk his family’s meager income. The worker had to be protected from himself by the state.

I recall when the Lottery was first created I was an intern working in my Dad’s office. My father represented several of what he referred to as “gentleman Bookmakers.” These were independent, small-time guys, not mob affiliated. One fellow in particular was a steady customer. he went about his “business” without harming or threatening anyone. By and large the police left him alone until some Mayor or politician demanded a crack down on these “evil-doers.” There would be a raid and the bookie and his several runners were rounded up. People rarely went to jail for bookmaking, usually paying a hefty fine and some probation.

When the Lottery was created my Dad decided to raise a constitutional challenge to the new law. His argument was that the State of Connecticut had become the biggest “bookmaker” in the state. No longer was the state the pater familias, caring for the wayward wage earner. Now that the Lottery could reap millions in income without raising taxes our puritanical views changed. It was left to me as the intern to fashion the challenge that the new lottery laws denied equal protection under the Fourteenth Amendment to our bookie clients.

I threw myself into the task and crafted what I convinced myself was a masterful constitutional challenge that no judge could ignore. Meanwhile the Lottery was an instant financial windfall for the state. Our client’s case was assigned to an old, nearly retired judge in the Circuit Court, then the lowest of our three court branches at the time. This old timer was close to retirement and his assignment as a Circuit Court judge had him way down on the judicial totem pole.

I remember reporting to my friends, after a very painful oral argument, that I would have had more success, and perhaps a more attentive audience if I had argued the case in front of some of the rummies who hung around the area where the court was located. What I painfully learned that day was that some very old, almost irrelevant minor court judge was not about to tell the State that this new found wealth was unconstitutional.

Now housing the most successful casinos in the western hemisphere it is unlikely that we will ever revert back to our puritanical roots.

Rich Meehan