WASHINGTON — The chief lobbyist for the casino industry is urging the Senate to explore Loretta Lynch’s views on illegal gambling before it votes on her nomination to become attorney general.
Geoff Freeman, president and chief executive of the American Gaming Association, asked the leaders of the Senate Judiciary Committee in a letter Tuesday to add gambling, and particularly sports betting, to the list of topics to be discussed with Lynch at a confirmation hearing on Wednesday.
“We urge you to make sure the next attorney general takes seriously the problem of illegal gambling across the country,” Freeman said in the letter to committee Chairman Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, and to Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, its top Democrat.
While Freeman has talked up the industry’s standing as a $240 billion enterprise, he also has stepped up a campaign against the billions of dollars that are wagered outside the law. The gaming association argues that illegal gambling masks money-laundering and other crimes, and robs states and local governments of tax revenue.
The push comes in the wake of guidance last month by the Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network that pressed casinos to take a bigger role in fighting illegal sports betting. It also comes as the casino industry is weighing a response to NBA Commissioner Adam Silver’s call for expanded — and federally regulated — sports betting.
In a speech to the nation’s mayors last week Freeman estimated $3.8 billion will be wagered illegally on the Super Bowl — 38 times the amount that will be bet legally in Nevada sports books. Nevada, Oregon, Delaware and Montana are legally allowed to host sports betting operations, but Nevada is the only state that does so extensively.
While many bets on the big game are cast in office pools and for relatively small sums, Freeman told the Senate committee leaders that “not every bet is innocuous.”
“We request that you keep in mind the important role of the Department of Justice in cracking down on illegal gambling activities across the country,” Freeman said.
Lynch, 55, a North Carolina native and Harvard-educated lawyer, has served as U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York since 2010, overseeing federal prosecutions in Brooklyn, Queens, Long Island and Staten Island. She also served in that post from 1999 to 2001.
One of the cases in which her office was involved, according to the FBI, was the 2012 indictment of 25 individuals in five states, including eight in Las Vegas, accused of having roles in an illegal sports gambling operation in Queens that brought in more than $50 million in profits over 18 months. Lynch oversaw asset forfeiture lawsuits against the defendants.
The case originally pursued by the district attorney’s office in Queens later was taken over by Lynch’s office, which obtained a guilty plea to one charge of conspiracy from Michael Colbert, former director of risk management with Cantor Gaming, for his role in the scheme.
Lynch is expected to face a broad range of questions in seeking confirmation to one of the most powerful Cabinet positions.
Grassley has said he expects Lynch to be grilled on immigration-related issues including President Barack Obama’s executive orders to expand legalization for categories of undocumented residents. Many Republicans charge Obama overstepped his authority.
But that will not be the sole test for the nominee. Other areas where Lynch could face questions include voting rights, local government abuse of civil forfeiture laws, the legal underpinnings for the war on terrorism, efforts by states to legalize marijuana, and civil rights and police brutality issues that exploded in Ferguson, Mo., and in New York City last year.
Lynch might also be queried on Internet gambling, although no senator yet has announced an intention to do so.
A 2011 Justice Department reinterpretation of federal law opened the way for states to consider legalizing online gaming. New Jersey and Delaware have approved casino gaming online while Nevada has approved only online poker.
In response to the department’s reworked opinion of the Wire Act of 1961, Congress has hit an impasse whether to legalize online gaming and establish a federal system to regulate and tax it, or whether to ban it outright on moral grounds as urged by Sheldon Adelson, the billionaire chairman of Las Vegas Sands.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who sponsored an Internet gaming ban in the last Congress, sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee and could bring it up with Lynch.
Graham spokesman Kevin Bishop said the senator usually makes a “game time decision” whether to bring up a particular topic depending on what other senators are asking and how their questions are being answered.