Calling the bluff

A Minnesota enforcement agency overplayed its hand when it asked ISPs to block Minnesotans’ access to online poker.

Last week, MinnesotaâÄôs Alcohol and Gambling Enforcement Division (AGED), under the Department of Public Safety, sent a written notice to 11 internet service providers ordering them to block their Minnesota customersâÄô web access to nearly 200 online poker websites. In defense of their demand upon ISPs, the AGED cites the Interstate Wire Act of 1961, which orders âÄúcommon carriersâÄù to block telecommunications services which facilitate betting. Of course the internet wasnâÄôt around in 1961, so the law could not possibly have been drafted with online poker in mind. The highest court to issue a ruling on the 1961 Interstate Wire Act, The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, has interpreted the law as applying solely to sports betting, and no other types of online gambling. The AGED has grossly misinterpreted the law. But the aggressive move by MinnesotaâÄôs Alcohol and Gambling Enforcement Division also marks an unprecedented erosion of net neutrality. Savetheinternet.com, an outspoken net neutrality organization, has said âÄúnet neutrality means no discrimination. Net neutrality prevents internet providers from blocking, speeding up or slowing down web content based on its source, ownership or destination.âÄù Under this conception, AGEDâÄôs move smacks of infraction by blocking Minnesota internet customers from accessing certain websites or âÄúdestinations,âÄù which at this point includes the 200 online poker sites. Of the nearly 200 sites, only 44 even accept U.S. players. Until a Minnesota statue makes playing online poker an explicit crime, these companies are having their web traffic disabled for what can only be deemed no legal reason. The Minnesota AGED simply has no leg to stand on. In 2004, a Pennsylvania court struck down a statute which blocked access to websites accused of child pornography, arguing the law violated the First and Fourteenth Amendments, amounted to unconstitutional prior restraint and inhibited access to other wholly legal websites because unrelated websites shared IP addresses. This action taken under the executive branch of MinnesotaâÄôs government, not backed by its own legislation, threatens the same shortcomings. An interactive gaming trade group, iMEGA has just filed suit against AGED and its actions citing USC 1983 which allows questionable âÄòenforcementâÄô methods, particularly those which impact constitutional rights, to be subjected to lawsuit. The Minnesota AGED has opened fire on net neutrality through its blatant misreading of federal statute. The AGED should retract these letters and get back to enforcing the law.