Minnesota Orders ISPs to Block Internet Gambling Websites

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The Minnesota Department of Public Safety (DPS), through its Alcohol and Gambling Enforcement Division (AGED), has ordered Internet service providers to block state residents' access to 200 Internet gambling Web sites. Minnesota referenced a Federal law, the Wire Act of 1961, for justification of its order to the ISPs, claiming the law made "online gambling is illegal in all U.S. states."

The Interactive Media Entertainment & Gaming Association (iMEGA), which was alerted to the blocking order early this morning by a Minnesota reporter seeking comment , immediately set it's legal team to work challenging the DPS order. iMEGA requested the list of the 200 "black listed" Web sites from DPS, but the request was denied on the advice of DPS counsel, which was apparently debating whether the black list would be made public.

"Again, you have an example of state government exceeding their authority and operating in secret to deny citizens their freedom to use the Internet as they see fit in the privacy of their own homes," said Joe Brennan Jr., chairman of iMEGA. "What is most concerning is the shaky legal pretext that Minnesota has used to fashion their order. There is simply no Federal law that exists that makes it illegal for all US citizens to gamble on the Internet. None."

The Wire Act of 1961 made it a criminal offense to use telephones or telegraphs to transmit wagers. Though the US Congress has taken the matter up a number of times, it has never amended the law to include Internet gambling. However, the US Department of Justice has broadly interpreted the Wire Act to proscecute individuals connected to Internet gambling operations in other countries.

A press release from DPS noted that this may only be the beginning of their efforts to block Minnesota residents from accessing certain Website content deemed "illegal" by the state agency, according to DPS director John Willems.

"Acknowledging the effort as an initial sample, Willems anticipates the program expanding to address thousands of sites, depending on compliance. He notes that the required technology to restrict geographic access to particular sites is a relatively straightforward procedure on the part of service providers."

iMEGA and its legal team, fresh from their Court of Appeals victory blocking the Commonwealth of Kentucky from seizing 141 Internet gambling-related domain names, expressed concern that DPS was signaling a new form of government censorship that would stretch well beyond the Internet gambling sector.

"When Mr. Wilhelm expresses his intention to extend his ‘program' to thousands of other sites, just what kind of sites will he be targeting?" Brennan asked. "And will he be making the determination which sites are ‘legal' and which are ‘illegal'? Because as far as we can tell, there is nothing in Minnesota or US Federal law that makes these gaming or any other sites illegal, just their opinion."        

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