Industry Trade Organization Sues Minnesota Public Safety Department

6 May 2009
The Interactive Media Entertainment and Gaming Association, an industry trade group that lobbies Congress, filed suit in Federal District Court against John Willems, the director of the gambling enforcement division of the public safety department.

The suit comes in response to notices the public safety department served last week to 11 Internet service providers instructing them to block Minnesotans’ access to nearly 200 online gambling sites.

The complaint asserts that the public safety department’s attempt to block residents’ access to those Web sites violates interstate commerce laws and free-speech rights guaranteed by the First Amendment.

It also maintains that the section of United States Code cited by the public safety department does not give the agency authority to demand that the I.S.P.s block access to the listed sites.

John Borger, partner with the law offices of Faegre and Benson and local counsel to Imega, told IGamingNews Wednesday that the suit asks the court to make the public safety department withdraw the letters it sent to the I.S.P.s and preclude it from sending out any similar letters.

Significantly, the suit also invokes United States Code 1983, which means that Imega asserts that its members’ civil rights have been violated and the organization is entitled to recoup its legal costs.

Joe Brennan Jr., chairman of Imega, told IGamingNews Wednesday that he hopes the complaint will move the public safety department to rescind their orders and make other states aware that any similar action taken will also be contested in court.

“The issue has gotten a lot of negative press in Minnesota, and the I.S.P.s already concur with what we say: that the DPS (public safety department) exceeded its authority and jurisdiction in giving those orders,” Mr. Brennan said.

“I’m hoping they’ll recognize the defects in their own order but also the cost," he went on. "Minnesota will have to look at the cost of answering the suit plus being on the hook for our legal bill, if we’re successful. Frankly, we’re trying to use that as leverage so this never sees the inside of a court room.”

The legal counsel for the public safety department has been served. Calls to the public safety department and to Mr. Willems directly had not been returned at press time Wednesday.

Caroline Gallay is a staff writer at IGamingNews. She lives in Columbia, Mo.