iMEGA fights Minnesota block

Will residents be barred from online gambling sites in Minnesota?

The Interactive Media Entertainment and Gaming Association set out a two-pronged attack this week against Minnesota's attempt to block online gambling sites from residents.

The first part of the attack is informing ISPs that they don't have to comply with Minnesota's request to block sites.

On Tuesday iMEGA said it sent letter to the 11 Internet service providers that the Minnesota Department of Public Safety had ordered to block access to 200 online gambling Web sites alerting the ISPs that they don't have to comply with the order.

iMEGA followed that up by filing a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court in Minneapolis to prevent the DPS from enforcing an order to block state residents' access to the nearly 200 online gambling Web sites.

The lawsuit was filed against John Willems, director of the DPS Alcohol and Gambling Enforcement division, who initiated the move to have the online gambling sites blocked.

According to iMEGA, Minnesota lacks the authority to compel the ISPs to block residents' access to the sites. The association believes those actions are a violation of free speech rights guaranteed by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

"It's our hope that Minnesota will recognize their error and drop their blocking order," said Joe Brennan Jr., iMEGA chairman. "Censoring Internet access for Minnesota residents would establish a troubling precedent of government intrusion into the online world, and we just can't allow that to happen."

iMEGA also pointed out in its letters to the ISPs that the state had erred in its application of a federal law from the 1960s regarding the use of telephone and telegraph wires for the transmission of illegal wagers.

iMEGA believes that Minnesota has neither the authority or the jurisdiction to order the ISPs to block Minnesota residents access to sites that are not located within the state.

"Because Web site operators are not subscribers of yours, have no contracts with you and are not provided facilities by you, you should be aware the MN DPS is attempting to mislead (either intentionally or inadvertently) you into believing that you are bound by federal law to do what the MN DPS asks," iMEGA's letter stated.

"In fact, [the Wire Act] simply does not apply to the Web site operators and imposes no duty upon you and provides no authority to you to comply with the MN DPS request."

iMEGA isn't the only one fighting against the DPS. State Representative Pat Garofalo introduced legislation in the state Congress this week that would bar the DPS from forcing ISPs to block access to Internet gaming sites.

"The Department of Public Safety has to have better things to do with their time than to go after a college kid in his dorm room or some guy sitting in his basement spending a couple of hours playing online poker," Garofalo said.

"Demanding that a private-sector Internet service provider block access to Web sites is not a proper function of our state government."

The legislation would require prior legislative approval before the DPS could ask companies to block access to Web sites.

"I'm certainly not condoning online gambling, but I have serious concerns about government banning access to Web sites" Garofalo said.

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