Justice Department’s reversal on online gambling echoed fight by Sheldon Adelson’s casino lobbyists

The legal reasoning behind the Justice Department’s unusual reversal this week of an opinion that paved the way for online gambling hewed closely to arguments made by lobbyists for casino magnate and top Republican donor Sheldon Adelson.

In April 2017, one of the lobbyists sent a memo to top officials in the Justice Department, arguing that a 2011 opinion that benefited online gambling was wrong.

Officials in the department’s Criminal Division, in turn, forwarded it to the Office of Legal Counsel, which had issued the opinion, and asked attorneys there to re-examine their stance that a law on the books for decades didn’t prohibit online gambling, according to documents and interviews with people familiar with the matter.

The Justice Department this week announced that its Office of Legal Counsel had, in an unusual move, reversed its position, according to documents and interviews.

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The department’s new position was a victory for Adelson, who has poured millions into a multiyear lobbying campaign on the matter, according to public lobbying disclosures. In addition to his advocacy to curb online gambling, Adelson spent tens of millions in the 2016 election backing President Trump and has emerged as one of the most powerful and influential donors in GOP politics.

An expanded version of this report appears on WSJ.com.

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