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Emily D. Swoboda

U.S. Gambling Lobbyists Downplay New Attorney General's Connection to N.F.L.

2 February 2009

The new United States attorney general, Eric H. Holder Jr., joins the Department of Justice from a law firm known for lobbying on behalf of the National Football League against Internet gambling, but gambling lobbyists in Washington, D.C., downplayed any past connection between Mr. Holder, his firm and the politically troublesome issue.

Mr. Holder, President Barack Obama's pick for attorney general, has been practicing law for 33 years. During his career, he has worked for the Department of Justice's Public Integrity Section. In 1993, then President Bill Clinton appointed him to the office of United States attorney for the District of Columbia and, in 1997, as Deputy Attorney General of the United States.

After leaving the public sector in 2001, Mr. Holder joined the law firm Covington & Burling in Washington, where he represented Merck & Company, the pharmaceutical manufacturer and distributor, as well as the N.F.L. -- but not in matters of Internet gambling. Mr. Holder spoke on behalf of the league during its 2007 dog-fighting investigation against Michael Vick, the disgraced former quarterback of the Atlanta Falcons.

Although Mr. Holder vowed during his Senate confirmation hearing in January to "aggressively enforce" the law against all forms of Internet gambling considered illegal, in terms of what his appointment means for the Internet gambling industry, Edward J. Leyden, president of the Interactive Media Entertainment and Gaming Association in Washington, said it would be impossible to predict.

"You can always assume there will be points of departure from the previous administration, but it would be reading tea leaves to say that his focus -- and, specifically, the focus of the individual offices of the U.S. attorneys -- would be on Internet gambling," Mr. Leyden told IGamingNews Monday.

It is a general practice that United States attorneys tender their resignations once a new administration is sworn in, but the president has at his discretion the power to both appoint and remove federal prosecutors.

Two United States attorneys in particular have proven to be a source of legal angst for the industry: Catherine Hanaway from the Eastern District of Missouri, who is actively prosecuting defendants connected with BetonSports, and Michael J. Garcia from the Southern District of New York, who in 2007 successfully prosecuted the two founding directors of Neovia Financial (which traded then as Neteller).

"Ms. Hanaway, I suppose, will move on in her career," Mr. Leyden said. "The Southern District of New York will probably have a turnover. That's really where the rubber has hit the road so far, in terms of enforcement."

In fact, Mr. Garcia resigned in December 2008 and Lev Dassin, formerly the deputy to Mr. Garcia, is the acting United States attorney for the district.

Mr. Leyden noted meanwhile that it would be a mistake to think that the industry can breathe easy now that the attorney general has been replaced.

"I think the impetus for those lawsuits has not been dissipated by the fact that Attorney General Holder is (in office)," he said.

"By the same token, all you can ever ask for in a law enforcement officer is to be fair and execute prosecutorial discretion in wise and equitable manner, and through his history, Attorney General Holder has earned the respect of the bar here in D.C. and around the country as being a very wise prosecutor and a very wise judge when he was on the bench," he continued. "And so when push comes to shove, we have to hope that he exercises that prosecutorial discretion that comes with being attorney general in a way that's wise toward online gambling."

A Washington gambling lobbyist, who wished not to be named, does not believe Mr. Holder's connection to the N.F.L. is much cause for concern.

"I don't think it will impact that much," the lobbyist told IGamingNews Monday. "If anything, it may make him feel compelled to stay away from the Internet gambling issue, which could be a good thing or a bad thing. Given that [Mr. Holder] has done work on behalf of the N.F.L., and given what happened with (William) Wichterman, he may feel compelled to recuse himself if an issue rose to his level."

William B. Wichterman, a former lobbyist for the N.F.L. at Covington & Burling, was accused of helping speed along the regulations for the UIGEA, which were hastily finalized in November 2008. Mr. Wichterman was appointed by former President George W. Bush in April 2008 as special assistant and deputy director of public liaison.

Looking ahead, the lobbyist emphasized the administration has many issues in queue more politically significant than Internet gambling, adding the appointments to watch closely will be the head of the Justice Department's criminal division, as well as those of the individual United States attorneys.

Mr. Holder was confirmed to the office of attorney general by a 75-to-21 bipartisan vote in the Senate Monday evening.

U.S. Gambling Lobbyists Downplay New Attorney General's Connection to N.F.L. is republished from
Emily D. Swoboda
Emily D. Swoboda