Attorney General Gurbir S Grewal of the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office has filed a lawsuit against the US Department of Justice (DoJ).
The suit claims that the DoJ violated the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) after it failed to provide sufficient answers to New Jersey.
Grewal disclosed in a statement: “Online gaming is an important part of New Jersey’s economy, and the residents of New Jersey deserve to know why the Justice Department is threatening to come after an industry we legalised years ago.
“It’s especially important that we figure out whether this federal crackdown is the result of a lobbying campaign by a single individual seeking to protect his personal business interests.”
In February, New Jersey wanted to obtain any records of communications and documents linking the department’s recently revised opinion of the Federal Wire Act to the efforts of casino magnate Sheldon Adelson.
Almost a decade ago, the DoJ found most forms of online gaming were legal under the federal Wire Act. Following that opinion, online lotteries and other forms of online gaming began to grow in states throughout the country.
The 1961 Wire Act was reinterpreted back in January to make it so that any form of online gaming could be deemed illegal if it involves interstate activity, even if it is legal at the state level – like New Jersey.
Federal prosecutors could bring criminal charges under the Wire Act against individuals and companies that offered or facilitated online gaming services.
Following the reinterpretation, Grewal responded to the DoJ with a letter characterising the new opinion as an unfounded “about face.”
On the same day, he filed a FOIA request seeking documents regarding press reports that the department’s decision was the result of intensive lobbying efforts by Adelson, who reportedly opposed the expansion of online gaming as a threat to his brick-and-mortar casino businesses.
In March 2019, the DoJ confirmed that it had received New Jersey’s FOIA request and that it would be granted expedited processing. In its initial request, New Jersey made clear that expedited processing was particularly important for this case, given that the new DoJ opinion will go into effect on June 14, 2019.
The New Jersey Attorney General’s Office said to date the DoJ has provided no records in response to its request and provided no legal grounds for withholding responsive material. Filed in the US District Court in New Jersey, Grewal’s lawsuit notes that an expedited FOIA request should be fulfilled within 20 days according to the DoJ’s own FOIA guide.
It also points out that, despite a claim by DoJ that “unusual circumstances” surrounding New Jersey’s request, it has not explained such a characterisation.