The Interactive Media Entertainment and Gaming Association (iMEGA) filed suit on Wednesday against the leading official in a Minnesota state agency’s attempt to prevent online gambling by ordering Internet service providers to block access to nearly 200 online domains. The suit, filed in US District court, names John Willems, the head of the Minnesota Department of Public Safety’s Alcohol and Gambling Enforcement Division, in his official role as AGED director. Willems was the official responsible for issuing an order to the eleven ISPs serving the state, demanding the ISPs block access to the sites.
The suit, seeking an injunction to block implementation of the AGED order, includes several counts:
• That AGED and Willems cited a federal statute in the order that did not provide the needed authority to order the ISPs to block the sites;
• That the order is a violation of free speech rights guaranteed under the First Amendment to the US Constitution;
• That the order also violates the US Commerce Clause, which is designed to prevent undue restriction of trade across state lines. In addition to the constitutionality and authority questions, the suit also notes that blocking access to Minnesota residents could also impede service to non-Minnesotans, due to the routing intricacies of the Internet itself.
In a press release accompanying the action, iMEGA Chairman Joe Brennan, Jr. noted that, “It’s our hope that Minnesota will recognize their error and drop their blocking order. 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, which has also been at the head of legal battles involving online gambling in Kentucky and at the US federal level, separately issued a letter to the eleven ISPs, requesting that they not comply with the Minnesota order. In that letter, iMEGA asserted that “the MN DPS is attempting to mislead (either intentionally or inadvertently) you into believing that you are bound to do what the MN DPS asks. [The federal statute cited] simply does not apply to website operators and imposes no duty upon you and provides no authority with you to comply…” The ISPs involved include Comcast, Verizon, AT&T and other major access providers.
iMEGA’s action also accompanies a measure quickly introduced by Minnesota State Rep. Pat Garofalo earlier this week, which would block the AGED order. Garofalo publicly chastised Willems, stating that, "This is the kind of thing they do in communist China, not the United States of America." The “China” reference mirrored a poker playersAlliance statement issued shortly following the announcement of the AGED order.
Willems immediately fired back at Garofalo’s measure, being quoted in a Minneapolis-St. Paul Star Tribune piece as follows: "It reflects a 180-degree turn from the current enforcement efforts towards illegal online gambling, particularly those that are being currently undertaken" by Willems and his department.
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