New Jersey has sued the U.S. Department of Justice for failing to respond to a Freedom of Information Act request for any documents linking the lobbying efforts of casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, a major Republican donor, to the federal government’s recent threats against state-sanctioned online gambling.
In the federal suit, N.J. Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal outlined a series of alleged stonewalling actions by the Justice Department since his office requested the documentation on Feb. 5. The lawsuit said that the Justice Department had indicated it would grant expedited processing to the request, requiring it to comply within 20 days.
“To date, DOJ has provided no records in response to New Jersey’s request and provided no legal grounds for withholding responsive material,” Grewal’s office said in a news release.
The action stems from a Justice Department directive in January that reinterprets the federal Wire Act, which prohibits interstate wagering, to apply to any form of gambling that crosses state lines, not just sports betting.
New Jersey launched internet gambling in 2013, and last year it generated $352.7 million in annual revenue and $60 million in direct gaming taxes.
The Justice Department’s reversal was widely interpreted as a victory for Adelson, the Sands Casino chairman and influential GOP donor who spent millions lobbying to curb online gambling, which he sees as a threat to brick-and-mortar casinos. Adelson donated tens of millions of dollars to Donald Trump’s campaign in 2016.
“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,” Grewal said in a statement. “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.”
Grewal and Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro in February asked the Justice Department to withdraw the “deeply troubling” legal opinion.
The federal government did not withdraw the opinion, but Rod Rosenstein, then the assistant attorney general, clarified the opinion last month when he said the new directive would not apply to state lotteries after a June 14 enforcement deadline. Rosenstein’s reinterpretation was apparently in response to a lawsuit by the New Hampshire Lottery.