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Minnesota Department of Public Safety Discusses Internet Gambling BanBy Dan Cypra for POKER NEWS DAILY | Posted on April 30, 2009
John Willems, Director of the Minnesota Department of Public Safety’s Alcohol and Gambling Enforcement Division, is leading the effort to compel internet service providers (ISP) to block state residents' access to at least 200 websites. He sat down with Poker News Daily to discuss the written notice served to ISPs this week.
Poker News Daily: The basis for the blockage is that internet gaming sites are illegal under the Wire Act, which has traditionally applied to online sports betting. In addition, the list of 200 websites has not yet been made public. What can you share with us about what sites will be affected?
Willems: The Wire Act has been used in other arenas as well. The list, which is only 200 out of literally thousands of websites, was selected at random without regards to what type of internet gambling each site is engaged in. Online poker would fall within that possibility.
This is a new process for everyone involved. There are differing opinions on the issue and we respect that. We initiated a civil notice. We haven’t seized property or discontinued service. We requested that the telecom companies not allow Minnesota customers, and only Minnesota customers, to be able to access them. Online gambling has been held to be illegal by the past three Attorney Generals and Minnesota is one of the first states to take action.
PND: Do you plan to pursue any of the internet gamblers directly or just use ISP blockage to stunt the industry?
Willems: We’re not pursuing any of the bettors and we’re not keeping people from accessing their money. We wanted to let everyone in the world know what we were up to in order to be transparent. We wanted to let them know that if we were successful, it might impact their ability to get funds they may have online. The last thing that we wanted to do was surprise everyone.
Our actions have also increased the level of conversation on this topic.
PND: Minnesota has tribal casinos, card rooms at racetracks, and a state lottery
, among other forms of gambling. Is the move, at least in part, due to wanting to protect the explicitly legal versions?
Willems: The motive is to deal with sizable illegal gambling
activity and to use the most reasonable tool we can to deal with it. We are an enforcement agency that has very few tools available. As the contraction of the telecom industry has occurred, this statute seems much more viable today than it was before.
PND: What feedback has the Department of Public Safety received so far?
Willems: I hope we’ll have a mutually satisfying outcome to whatever occurs and I hope we’ll get good public policy because of it. It appears to me, based on voice messages and phone conversations, that the Poker Players Alliance
must have contacted their membership because I’ve gotten a lot of feedback. I respect their viewpoint and understand it. As much as I can, I try to take the calls, but there are too many of them. I do understand their concerns and I’m not disrespectful of that, but there is a difference of opinion. If they want to make their case, they should also do so to the state’s policy makers.
PND: The press release notes, “U.S. code cited [for] first time in effort to halt illegal online gambling.” Talk about being the first such state to take action.
Willems: We can’t find any precedent elsewhere and we are doing it in a different way, on a different scale, and with a different attitude than has been done in the past. We understand there is a controversial aspect to it and we’re sorry for that. We’re enforcing the laws. If there is illegal gambling, we have to do our best to deal with it. That’s created some pushback by some people. Even in our own state, we have social card games
, which are given direct instructions as to how they can operate, but they have not yet expanded online. The policy makers of Minnesota may want to dive into it.