Category Archives: Federal Policy

New Federal Legislation to Regulate Predatory Gambling-esque Loot Boxes in Video Games Announced by Mo Sen. Hawley

Casino Watch Focus has reported on the ongoing developments and many efforts by regulatory officials to bring awareness to a new form of gambling aimed at kids and video game players. Loot Boxes are a new gambling type mechanic that has the player pay money to open a mystery box in hopes of winning loot to help them in the video games they are playing. In some cases those items carry real value that can be sold, effectively making them video game slot machines aimed at kids. In other cases, loot boxes are implemented to play on the exact same psychology exhibited when people outright gamble, and regulators and studies agree. A lot of international efforts have been taken, but domestically, the reactions have been mostly to encourage the industry to fairly self regulate and to call for investigations into this gambling-esque video game mechanic that is largely targeting children. However, new federal legislation has now been announced by Missouri Senator Josh Hawley. NBC News Online reports: 

Senator Josh Hawley, R-Mo., is introducing legislation that seeks to ban exploitative video game industry practices that target children like loot boxes and pay-to-win, he announced on Wednesday.

“Social media and video games prey on user addiction, siphoning our kids’ attention from the real world and extracting profits from fostering compulsive habits. No matter this business model’s advantages to the tech industry, one thing is clear: there is no excuse for exploiting children through such practices,” Sen. Hawley said.

“When a game is designed for kids, game developers shouldn’t be allowed to monetize addiction. And when kids play games designed for adults, they should be walled off from compulsive microtransactions. Game developers who knowingly exploit children should face legal consequences.”

There are many strategies for regulating microtransactions and loot boxes. Some places have banned them outright, others have looked at making sure the items cant be sold for cash, thus not being gambling, but a transaction and others have focused on the intent of the loot box or simply the age of those making these purchases. Sen Hawley’s approach is a bit of an amalgam with the emphasis on the age of the player and the legislation utilizes a unique lens, The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act. An online source explains: 

Called “The Protecting Children from Abusive Games Act,” the bill would specifically seek to protect minors by focusing on games either targeted at, or played by, consumers under the age of 18. Determining what games are targeted at minors would apparently be based upon a number of factors, including the game’s subject matter, visual content, and other indicators similar to those used to determine the applicability of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA).

For games that meet the bill’s criteria, the legislation would prohibit “several forms of manipulative design.” In particular, the announcement identifies that the legislation would prohibit loot boxes, defined as “microtransactions offering randomized or partially randomized rewards to players.” Further, it would outlaw “pay-to-win” game designs, including both (1) attempting to induce players to spend money to quickly advance through game content that is otherwise available for no additional cost; and (2) manipulating the balance in competitive multiplayer games to give players who purchase additional microtransactions a competitive advantage over other players who do not pay the additional fees.

The proposed legislation would be enforced by the FTC through its authority to curb unfair and deceptive trade practices. In addition, the proposed legislation would empower state attorneys general to file lawsuits against game makers to enforce the act. 

For more information on the dangers of gambling, please visit CASINO WATCH & CASINO WATCH FOUNDATION

 

Advertisements

DOJ Seeks to get State Online Lottery Lawsuit Dropped

Casino Watch Focus has reported on the Department of Justice’s reversal of the Wire Act and that decision’s impact on online gambling. Many said lawsuits would be the deciding fact as to whether or not they could reverse the out of place Obama Administration’s reinterpretation of the wire act, which lead to the massive expansion of online gambling. One area of concern for states has been the impact on state lotteries, specifically where those state offer online access to their lotteries. The DOJ recently extended the deadline as they wanted to more closely examine the full range of its ruling. The DOJ is now seeking a motion to dismiss a lawsuit brought by New Hampshire claiming they don’t have standing to sue yet and that the state hasn’t proven that the ruling would even impact them. The Associated Press explains: 

The U.S. Justice Department says in a federal court brief that the New Hampshire Lottery Commission has failed to demonstrate that it wouldn’t be immune from 1960s law enacted to crack down on the mob.

On Thursday, the Justice Department filed the brief in Concord, New Hampshire, in response to a judge’s order for it to clarify its interpretation of the Wire Act. States fear losing at least $220 million annually in lottery profits if the Wire Act is determined to apply to all forms of gambling that crosses state lines.

The department also affirmed any early promise to not prosecute state lotteries or their vendors while it continues to review whether the Wire Act applies to lotteries.

The concern goes beyond the state of New Hampshire. Several states offer online access to their lotteries and some lotteries extent to multiple states. Some believe the intent of the DOJ isn’t to stop lotteries, as Powerball and Mega Millions are too engrained as a societal norm, but the actual transactions might very well fit the original 1960 Wire Act. An online source explains: 

The states are anxiously waiting on a clarification from the Justice Department about its opinion that, if strictly interpreted, would outlaw lottery tickets sold online and prohibit all lottery-related activities that use the internet. Legal experts say Powerball and Mega Millions are at risk if the opinion is read to the letter, which would cost the states billions. 

Seven states now sell lottery tickets online and others offer residents internet-based lottery subscription services.

When state lotteries use the internet to transmit data for online ticket sales, the network signal can cross state lines, and games that are played in multiple state s, like Powerball and Mega Millions, transmit data to a central database out of state, according to the North American Association of State and Provincial Lotteries.

For more information on the dangers of gambling, please visit CASINO WATCH & CASINO WATCH FOUNDATION


UPDATE: Wire Act Changes delayed by DoJ until June 14

Casino Watch Focus has reported on the developing situation surrounding the Department of Justices’ decision to restore the interpretation to the plain language of the Wire Act to ban all online gambling. The Obama Administration went against this long standing interpretation and concluded the Wire Act was only refereeing to sports betting, meaning all other forms of online gambling were not banned by federal law. This opened the floodgates to numerous state lottery programs as well other online gambling activities such as online poker. Now that the Trump Administration has announced its intent to restore the Wire Act to it original intention, many have objected and others have threatened to join in legal action. As a result, the DoJ is extending the recommended enforcement deadline to allow time for some of the legal challenges to play out. An online source explains: 

The U.S. Department of Justice extended any implementation of the agency’s revised Federal Wire Act opinion until June 14, according to a memo from outgoing Deputy U.S. Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.

The memo to all U.S. Attorneys, assistant attorney generals and the director of the FBI was signed Thursday. The Justice Department originally delayed the implementation until April 15. “We have decided to the extend that window an additional 60 day (through June 14, 2019),” Rosenstein wrote. “Providing this extension of time is an internal exercise of prosecutorial discretion and does not create a safe harbor for violations of the Wire Act.”

The move allow a legal challenge to the opinion, brought by New Hampshire, to moved forward in federal court. Rosenstein issued a memorandum on the 90-day delay the day after the opinion was announced, giving “businesses that relied on the 2011 (Office of Legal Counsel) opinion time to bring their operations into compliance with federal law.” Rosenstein is leaving office this week. Some in the gaming industry quietly hope new U.S. Attorney General William Barr – a state’s rights advocate – will simply opt not to enforce the opinion, just as the department doesn’t opt to prosecute for simple possession of marijuana. 

For more information on the dangers of gambling, please visit CASINO WATCH & CASINO WATCH FOUNDATION

 


New Jersey Plans to Sue the DOJ over Online Gambling Ruling

Casino Watch Focus has reported on the ongoing saga of the DOJ’s handling of the Wire Act as it pertains to gambling over both the Obama and Trump Administration. Most recently, the DOJ announced they had gone back to the long standing interpretation of the wire act that makes all forms of online gambling, not just sports gambling as the Obama Administration claimed, are illegal. This has understandably prompted a reaction from those that have decided to promote gambling in the online space. One of the more vocal states in regard to sports and online gambling has been New Jersey and they plan to sue the DOJ if they don’t reverse their stance. An online source reports:

New Jersey Senate President Stephen Sweeney has asked the Department of Justice to rescind its new opinion on the Wire Act. And if the DOJ does not, Sweeney has indicated NJ will go to court.

Sweeney’s letter to Rosenstein followed up on his statement days after the OLC opinion was made public in which he called on Lesniak, an attorney who served in the New Jersey legislature for 40 years, to come out of retirement to help protect the online gambling and sports betting industries that he helped bring to the state.

Lesniak then wrote a letter to Sweeney outlining how New Jersey could fight the opinion, and Sweeney used some of that language verbatim in his letter to the deputy attorney general.

Lesniak, who reactivated his license to practice law in the state of New Jersey on Monday, tells Online Poker Report that he plans to wait 30 days for new *US Attorney General Bob Barr* to get up to speed on the issue before filing the complaint requested by Sweeney.

The odds seem slim that the DOJ will resend their ruling. They aren’t taking a radical stance and they are simply going back to the clear intent of Congress that stood for so many years before the Obama Administration opened the flood gates of gambling by reversing the original intent. They have also been hinting at his position change for a while, so it truly seems unlikely that they would reverse their position based on New Jersey’s position. Time will tell if they follow through, but it seems likely that they will file a motion in court. 

For more information on the dangers of gambling, please visit CASINO WATCH & CASINO WATCH FOUNDATION


Guest Article: DOJ opinion will help protect kids from dangers of online gambling

Casino Watch Focus has reported on the new Department of Justice ruling that reestablished online gambling to be illegal under the wire act. The need for this ruling existed because the long standing intend of the wire act was erroneously reinterpreted by the Obama Administration to only apply to sports betting. This opened the flood gates to all other forms of online gambling. John Kent, Law and Economics Professor at the University of Illinois and the Senior Editor of the United States International Gaming Report opined why this reversal will help protect kids in an article published by The Hill: 

Until 2011, this DOJ ban had been in place for 50 years via the DOJ’s use of former U.S. Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy’s Wire Act, 18 U.S.C. sec. 1084, which was initially passed to fight organized crime.

In concert with the recommendations of the 1999 U.S. National Gambling Impact Study Commission established by Congress, the DOJ’s use of the Wire Act protected the public — and particularly kids — from 24/7 online gambling, including gambling on video games.

However, on Dec. 23, 2011 via a 13-page memo, the DOJ’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) reversed its long-held interpretation of the Wire Act to allow online non-sports gambling.

This 2011 OLC opinion was immediately vilified by the national press as reflecting corrupt influences and conflicts of interest, as detailed by the editorial board of the Christian Science Monitor on Dec. 27, 2011.

During a congressional hearing on Sep. 27, House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) again raised these bipartisan concerns, including OLC conflicts of interest. On Dec. 11, incoming Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) signaled to Gambling Compliance that he thought that the 2011 OLC opinion was incorrect.

Showing a picture of a child on his wireless ipad, Newsweek’s front cover on Aug. 14, 2014 stated:
“How Washington Opened The Floodgates To Online Poker, Dealing Parents a Bad Hand.”

Subsequently, the severe social and economic consequences of online gambling were highlighted in congressional hearings on March 25, 2015, and most recently on Sep. 27 before the House Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security, and Investigations, chaired by Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.).

The full article can be viewed HERE. 

For more information on the dangers of gambling, please visit CASINO WATCH & CASINO WATCH FOUNDATION


With Sports Betting Now Legal, Super Bowl Betting Brings Even More Risk and the NFL Attempts to See Prop Bets Banned

Casino Watch Focus has reported on the numerous gambling impacts expected around the Super Bowl. Each year the amount of gambling seem to increase and the expectations for Super Bowl LIII (53) between the Las Angeles Rams and the New England Patriots is no different. However, the recent Supreme Court decision that has legalized sports betting will seemingly exacerbate addiction problems and open the door for people who may have otherwise avoided the pitfalls. The executive director of the Council on Compulsive Gambling explains through an online source in New Jersey, the state that is effectively responsible for fighting for expanded sports betting :

“This year we’re particularly concerned as sports betting is now legal, and we know that more people, even those who didn’t traditionally gamble may gamble on the big game,” Neva Pryor, executive director of the Council on Compulsive Gambling of New Jersey, said.

She said an estimated $4.7 billion was bet illegally last year on the game, but with sports betting now permitted “we don’t really have any forecast — but I would imagine that’s going to be even more.”

She said for some, betting adds to the fun and excitement of the game. But for others it’s a destructive seduction that can ruin lives and families. “We’re concerned that people will overextend themselves or might possibly create a problem,” Pryor said.

Ease of access and the variety of gambling types around the Super Bowl are the primary drivers of this year’s concern. Executive Director Neva Pryor continues:

Pryor said added element of concern is all of the side bets that can be placed on a football game — including who scores first, who will make the first interception, the first fumble. People may bet “on the coin toss, on what they think the color of somebody’s hair will be, or whatever.”

She said people can easily bet online “so they can be sitting at home and placing a bet, they can be at the office and placing a bet, so there’s more opportunity and more ease of play.”

She said the ease of online gambling has definitely created new concerns.

“That’s why we have such a high rate of problem gamblers in the state, we have over a 6 percent ratio of people who possibly have a gambling problem in the state of New Jersey,” Pryor said. 

The NFL sees issues with Super Bowl betting and prop bets beyond the addiction concerns of Council on Compulsive Gambling. Their primary worry is that bets that focus on individual performances can leave the game open to game fixing scandals. As reported by one Fox News source, the NFL spoke to Congress in hopes of getting such bets banned: 

But if the National Football League had its way, bets on things like passing touchdowns for New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady or rushing yards for Los Angeles Rams running back Todd Gurley would be restricted — or even outlawed as too risky and vulnerable to manipulation or cheating.

Proposition bets — also known as prop bets — are less popular during the regular season but gain steam during the Super Bowl each year as a way to bet on the outcome of more than one thing at a moment the sports world is intensely focused on a single game.

In testimony before a U.S. House of Representatives committee on Sept. 27, NFL Executive Vice President Jocelyn Moore asked Congress to let professional sports leagues and gambling regulators ban prop bets that involve the performance of individual athletes over the course of a game.

“Examples might range from the number of passing yards by a quarterback in a football game or the number of points or rebounds by a team during a quarter of a basketball game, to the number of ‘throw-ins’ in a soccer match, or even how many flags a referee might throw in a contest,” she testified. “These types of bets are significantly more susceptible to match-fixing efforts, and are therefore a source of concern to sports leagues, individual teams, and the athletes who compete.

“To address concerns regarding risky betting fixtures, we encourage Congress to allow professional and amateur sports organizations to identify which types of bets simply pose too significant a risk to the integrity of sports and to work with regulators not to authorize them,” she said.

For more information on the dangers of gambling, please visit CASINO WATCH & CASINO WATCH FOUNDATION

 


Online Gambling in Jeopardy in Wake of New Dep of Justice Ruling

Casino Watch Focus has reported on the impact of the Obama Administration’s reinterpretation of the long standing Wire Act. It very clearly made online gambling that crossed state lines illegal, but the Obama Administration said it only covers sports betting, thereby opening the floodgates to all forms of online gambling except sports betting. This understandably led to a lot of concerns and questions over the safeguarding of those with access to online casinos, poker rooms or lotteries. Casino Watch reported two years ago that the Trump Administration was heavily considering reversing that reinterpretation and restoring the Wire Act to its original congressional intent. The Associated Press is reporting that the Department of Justice has followed through: 

The 2011 opinion opened the door for cash-strapped states and their lotteries to bring online gambling to their residents, as long as it did not involve interstate sports betting.

Nevada, New Jersey and Delaware legalized online gambling after that opinion was issued, and the three states have agreements allowing poker players to compete online across the states. Pennsylvania became the fourth state to legalize online casino gambling in 2017.

Now, the Justice Department says the previous opinion misinterpreted the statute.

“Based upon the plain language of the statute, however, we reach a different result,” attorneys for the department wrote in the opinion dated Nov. 2. “While the Wire Act is not a model of artful drafting, we conclude that the words of the statute are sufficiently clear and that all but one of its prohibitions sweep beyond sports gambling.”

The Wire Act was enacted in 1961 to target the mob and its gambling activities.

The full scope of the impact of this decision by the Depart of Justice is still unknown and this story will continue to develop. It’s very possible that a sea of litigation will be opened up, but the Depart of Justice hasn’t fully explained how severely they plan to enforce this interpretation. The AP continues: 

Jennifer Roberts, associate director of the International Center for Gaming Regulation at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, said the impact of the opinion rests on how strictly the Justice Department is going to enforce the new interpretation of the statute.

“Some could go really far and say even if you send a text message to a casino customer in another state and you are saying ‘Come play blackjack this weekend here’s a deal,’ arguably you can say that is information that assists in the placement of a wager,” she said. “I doubt it will go that far, but we will once again be subject to the interpretation.”

The new legal opinion will likely be challenged in court, an issue acknowledged by the department attorneys in their document.

Daniel Wallach, co-founding director of the University of New Hampshire School of Law Sports Wagering and Integrity Program, said the opinion could have “an immediate chilling effect” on the ability of states to conduct lotteries online.

“I think the most obviously impacted stakeholders are the lotteries that do internet sales, and that group is the most likely stakeholder to challenge this opinion in court.”

Advocacy group Coalition to Stop Internet Gambling and former U.S. Sen. Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas in a statement cheered the new opinion, characterizing the previous one as “problematic legally as it was morally” and calling the new one a “win for parents, children and other vulnerable populations.”

For more information on the dangers of gambling, please visit CASINO WATCH & CASINO WATCH FOUNDATION