Minnesota officials have ordered 11 internet service providers to block all computers in the state from accessing nearly 200 online gambling sites.
The state Department of Public Safety invoked a federal law passed in 1961 that requires "common carriers" to block telecommunications services used for gambling. As the Associated Press reports here, the legal reasoning is fatally flawed for several reasons.
Chief among them, it's doubtful AT&T, Comcast, Qwest Communications and many of the other ISPs receiving the order are legally considered common carriers. That term is usually reserved for utilities or businesses legally bound to carry all traffic over their networks.
The AP also cited analysis from Center for Democracy and Technology general counsel John Morris. He said the Wire Act of 1961 appears to apply to phone companies that directly do business with bet-takers. The Minnesota order here applies to gambling sites on foreign soil, where the US-based ISPs have no direct links.
"I think this is a very problematic and significant misreading of the statute," Morris said.
The move is the latest doomed attempt by a US state to rein in online gambling.
Last year, Kentucky officials seized 141 domain names used by some of the world's biggest internet betting sites. That seizure was blasted by civil liberties groups, including the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which argued the laws of an individual state shouldn't trump the rights of everyone else to access sites that are perfectly legal elsewhere. Kentucky's Court of Appeals later reversed the action.
John Willems, director of Minnesota's Alcohol and Gambling Enforcement Division, told The Start Tribune that he didn't know how pervasive online gambling was in the state, but that anecdotal evidence showed it was hurting legalized casino-style businesses in Minnesota.
The paper goes on to cite a study by PricewaterhouseCoopers that claims the federal government could raise more than $50bn over 10 years from taxes on internet gambling if it was legalized. ®