Minnesota internet ban attempt - Update

The extraordinary attempt by the state of Minnesotas's Alcohol & Gambling Enforcement Division to require ISPs and telecomms companies to block online gambling sites operating outside the states continued to dominate the headlines as the week ended, overshadowing even Barney Frank's new bill attacking the UIGEA, which is scheduled for introduction next week.

The Interactive Media Entertainment & Gaming Association asked for, and received a copy of the black list sent to ISPs, which contained 210 well known casino names...but strangely many of these have already exited the US or do not accept US sign-ups.

"We question how much thought was put into the selection of these sites," said Joe Brennan Jr., iMEGA chairman. "To propose censoring Minnesota residents' Web access and not to know which sites are even in the US market makes me wonder just how seriously the DPS is taking this action. It comes off as a half-baked attempt at intimidation rather than thoughtful enforcement."

AGED director John Willems explained that the list contained only a small percentage of the "literally thousands of [gambling] websites on the Internet, and that it had been compiled by making selections "...at random without regards to what type of internet gambling each site is engaged in."

The list includes many well established and reputable international online gambling venues including operations like Full Tilt Poker.com, 32Red.com and sister casino Dash.com, Betfred, Casino Room, English Harbour, Everest Poker, Gaming Club, Party Casino and a host of others. Yet it omits the biggest US-serving online poker site on the Internet - PokerStars.com.

Willems has also confirmed that his department does not intend pursuing or prosecuting Minnesota online gamblers. "We’re not pursuing any of the bettors and we’re not keeping people from accessing their money," he said in a Poker News Daily interview. "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."

Willems also denied that his motive was the protection of the many other forms of gambling sanctioned in Minnesota. "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," he said.

"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."

The Americans for Tax Reform (ATR) has added its voice to other civil rights and freedom of speech critics speaking against the Minnesota action. Grover Norquist, head of the Washington-based organisation, opined that the Minnesota action was typical of a growing authoritarian trend of officialdom trying to control the Internet.

“The State of New York wants to tax people who download movies. There is an effort throughout the states to tax internet sales on sites like eBay," he elaborated. "One of the reasons that the internet is so helpful is that it allows competition. The best way to keep taxes low is to allow people to be able to access other jurisdictions.

“You can’t always pick up and move, but on the internet, you can buy things in other states and other countries. That’s one of the reasons why the internet is so helpful. It’s none of the government’s business what you do online. We just went through this in Kentucky,” Norquist added in a reference to the so far unsuccessful attempt by that state to seize international domain names.

Norquist said it was not helpful to have politicians "pushing people around" when it came to the protection of civil liberties.

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