Minnesota attacks online gambling

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Online gambling is under attack in another state as Minnesota's Department of Public Safety seeks to block access to nearly 200 Web sites.

The State's Department of Public Safety served notice on 11 national and regional telephone and Internet service providers this week telling them to prohibit access of all Minnesota-based computers to those gambling sites.

The DPS contends that online gambling is illegal in all U.S. states.

Under a federal statute enacted in 1961 that recognized the states' need to control illegal gambling, the state has the authority to use its law enforcement agencies to stop illegal online gambling activity.

The DPS said it believes this is the first attempt by a state to employ the federal statute to restrict access to online gambling sites.

"In Minnesota, and for Minnesotans, the primary issues are legality, state self-governance and accountability," said John Willems, director of the DPS Alcohol and Gambling Enforcement Division.

"In broader context, the long-running debate on online gambling continues to raise significant issues, including absence of policy and regulation, individual rights, societal impact, international fair-trade practices, and funding for criminal and terrorist organizations."

Not only will Internet Service Providers be asked to block computers in Minnesota from the list of online gambling sites, the written notice also provides the sites' telephone numbers so Minnesotans can't call those numbers either.

"We are putting site operators and Minnesota online gamblers on notice," Willems said

"Disruption of these sites' cash flow will negatively impact their business models. State residents with online escrow accounts should be aware that access to their accounts may be jeopardized and their funds in peril."

According to the DPS, a response from the notified ISPs is expected within two to three weeks, at which time issues of non-compliance will be referred to the Federal Communications Commission.

The list of specific online gambling sites isn't being made available until the DPS confirms it is legal to release it.

However, Willems told PokerListings the list is not defined by type of gambling.

"Staff prepared a sample list at my request, so it may or may not include poker," Willems said. "Please keep in mind this is about 200 sites, which is a small representation of the larger number that operate."

Willems anticipates the program will expand to address thousands of online gambling sites depending on the compliance of the telephone companies and ISPs. He said the required technology to restrict geographic access to particular sites is a relatively straightforward procedure for service providers.

"The state of Minnesota has not to this point explored regulating this business. Perhaps that will happen in the future," Willems said.

"However, as of now, this form of gambling is unlawful in our state."

Matt Werden, the Minnesota state director of the Poker Player Alliance, has already stepped up to defend online poker.

"This isn't simply a heavy-handed tactic by the government; this is a clear misrepresentation of federal law, as well as Minnesota law, used in an unprecedented way to try and censor the Internet," Werden said.

"I don't know what U.S. Code they're reading, but it is not illegal to play this great American pastime online, and we're calling their bluff."

Werden claims online poker isn't illegal, is not criminal, and can't be forcibly blocked by "a state authority looking to score some political points."

"We see headlines like this coming from communist China but never expect that it could happen here in Minnesota," Werden said. "The good news is groups like the Poker Players Alliance are here to protect the rights of poker players and set the record straight when government reaches too far."

Werden said the issue is more than just about protecting poker. It is about keeping the Internet free of censorship and ensuring that law-abiding citizens can enjoy a game of Texas Hold'em in the comfort of their own home, either online or with a group of friends.

"The PPA will take any action necessary to make sure our members and the general public are aware of these oppressive and illegal actions, and to make sure the game of poker - in all it's forms - is protected in the state of Minnesota," he said.

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