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Minnesota Gambling Censorship Update

April 30, 2009 (CAP Newswire) — The state of Minnesota’s decision to try to censor its residents’ access to online gambling websites by forcing Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to block access to those sites is becoming a focal point for the iGaming industry and its opponents.

Yesterday, the state told 11 ISPs and telephone providers that it must block access to about 200 gambling websites. In doing so, the state may be overstepping its legal boundaries, since most of those companies are based outside of Minnesota.

Interestingly, the state isn’t using the 2006 UIGEA law as its cause for action, but rather, a 1961 federal law that states that all gambling is illegal, even if the games are hosted outside of the country.

No sites have been blocked yet, but action appears to be imminent. “We are putting site operators and Minnesota online gamblers on notice and in advance," says John Willems, director of the state's Alcohol and Gambling Enforcement Division, as quoted in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. "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 state’s most widely read newspaper, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, the attempt to block access isn’t likely to stop people from gambling online.

"I have e-mailed the Justice Department, and I've volunteered to be arrested," said St. Paul resident Chris Wallace, who quit college for a career in online poker. "I play online poker. Come and get it."

Minnesota legal experts are very skeptical about whether the action will be successful. "This is an old law put in place before the Internet, and there may be an argument that it doesn't cover Internet service providers," said David Axtell, an attorney quote in the Star-Tribune.

Meanwhile, the Poker Players Alliance (PPA) has released a statement criticizing the state’s action. Matt Werden, the PPA’s Minnesota state director, stated: "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. 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.

"The fact is, online poker is not illegal, it's not criminal, and it cannot be forcibly blocked by a state authority looking to score some political points. What are they going to do when this fails, ban poker books and burn our players at the stake? …

"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 [sic] forms – is protected in the state of Minnesota."

The PPA has more than 21,000 members in Minnesota, according to the news release. Click here to read it. The Star-Tribune’s coverage can be found here.