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NJ Attorney General files lawsuit claiming DoJ FOIA violation


New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal has filed a lawsuit accusing the US Department of Justice (DoJ) of violating the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). 

Grewal states that the DoJ has failed to provide answers in response to his FOIA request, filed in February 2019, for documents related to its decision to revise its stance on the Wire Act. The request was to ascertain whether lobbyists had played a role in the policy shift.

The DoJ confirmed that it received the FOIA request in March, and that it would be granted expedited processing. However, the Department has provided no records in response to the request, and provided no legal grounds for withholding the information. 

The lawsuit notes that an expedited FOIA request should be fulfilled within 20 days, according to the DoJ’s own FOIA guide. It also points out that the Department has not yet explained its claim that the original request was filed in “unusual circumstances”. 

It follows the DoJ’s decision to rule that the Wire Act, which bans the transmission of gambling data across state lines, applies to all forms of gaming, and not just sports betting. This reverses a 2011 opinion on the legislation, and has created major uncertainty in the regulated US lotteries and gaming sectors. 

The original request specifically demanded records of any discussions with anti-igaming pressure group the Coalition to Stop Internet Gambling and Las Vegas Sands chief executive Sheldon Adelson. Grewal also asked for any similar records of discussions with former Arkansas Senator and anti-igaming advocate Blanche Lincoln, or her policy consultancy, the Lincoln Group. 

Details of discussions with lawyer Charles Cooper, who represents former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and Sands lobbyist Darryl Nirenberg were also sought. 

Adelson is arguably the highest-profile opponent of igaming in the US, and has long fought gaming expansion efforts in the country.

“Online gaming is an important part of New Jersey’s economy, and the residents of New Jersey deserve to know why the Justice Department is threatening to come after an industry we legalized years ago,” said Attorney General Grewal of the lawsuit. 

“It’s especially important that we figure out whether this federal crackdown is the result of a lobbying campaign by a single individual seeking to protect his personal business interests.”

A lawsuit looking to have the revised Wire Act stance overturned, filed by the New Hampshire State Lottery, is also underway. The decision will not be enforced until June 14, after the DoJ extended the deadline by which all operators must ensure they are compliant with the ruling.