Minnesota drops bid to block online gambling sites

10 June 2009
The Minnesota Department of Public Safety Alcohol and Gaming Enforcement Division (AGED) has dropped its efforts to get Internet Service Providers to block online gambling sites from Minnesota residents. AGED's decision to drop the enforcement action was part of a settlement agreement it reached with the Interactive Media Entertainment & Gaming Association (iMEGA). In return, iMEGA dropped its civil suit against AGED.

"We're very happy with the outcome," said Joe Brennan Jr., iMEGA chairman. "It was clear the public opposed this, and the swift negotiated settlement by DPS and AGED demonstrates both the merit of our suit and the shaky legal ground that the original 'black list' were based."

In his letter to ISPs rescinding the blocking request, AGED Director John Willems cited iMEGA's lawsuit as one of the reasons why AGED was no longer pursuing this issue.

"iMEGA alleged that the notice was not authorized under 18 U.S.C. 1084 and violated the First Amendment and the Commerce Clause," Willems wrote. "Whether or not iMEGA would have prevailed in court is unknown. Notwithstanding, the AGED has agreed to withdraw the notice. As a result, iMEGA has agreed to dismiss its court action without prejudice."

"I believe it may be more appropriate to resolve this problem by working to create clear and effective governmental policies concerning regulation of gambling," Willems also wrote in his letter.

Neither Willems nor AGED has responded to Casino City's requests for an interview.

The Poker Players Alliance, which mobilized its more than 15,000 members in Minnesota -- and more than 1 million nationwide -- helped bring political pressure to the equation. "Minnesota poker players made our voices heard, the state listened and ended its ill-advised and improper attempt to circumvent the rights of Minnesota poker players," said Matthew Werden, Minnesota State Director of the Poker Players Alliance.

"I think it's been a weird couple of months," said PPA Executive Director John Pappas about the Minnesota situation and the seizing of player funds from payment processors by the Department of Justice. "It was kind of amateur hour up their (in Minnesota) and they eventually conceded to that point and finally announced they were going to stop enforcement of it.

"And it sends a strong signal to the state that state-by-state action is the wrong approach and will be defeated on legal grounds and political grounds. My understanding from the politicians is they didn't realize how many people played poker. I had an opportunity to speak with (Minn. Gov.) Tim Pawlenty and he said 'this was a boneheaded, politically tone deaf move' by the people in his agency."

State Rep. Pat Garofalo, who introduced legislation to stop the move by AGED to block online gaming sites from Minnesota residents, was also pleased with the result.

"This is a great day for internet freedom," said Garofalo. "In the spirit of cooperation and in recognition of the rescission of these notices, I am more than happy to withdraw my bill and in its place sponsor a discussion aimed at establishing a framework for regulating and licensing the online gaming industry."

Vin Narayanan

Articles by Vin Narayanan is the former managing editor at Casino City and has been involved in the gaming industry for over a decade Vin is currently based in Hong Kong, where he runs his own consultant group and works as head of gaming and public relations for Mega Digital Entertainment Group.

Before joining Casino City, Vin covered (not all at the same time) sports, politics and elections, wars, technology, celebrities and the Census for USATODAY.com, USA WEEKEND and CNN.