WASHINGTON — A federal ban on Internet gambling would be restored under legislation introduced Wednesday by Sen. Lindsey Graham and others who say the Justice Department mistakenly allowed such gaming in a 2011 opinion.
Graham, R-Seneca, said Congress, not the Justice Department, should have the final say on whether betting online is legal.
"It's not just about gaming, it's about the process," Graham said at a news conference at the U.S. Capitol. "The attorney general's office, in my view, made a huge legal misstep here."
Graham's bill has support in the House and Senate among Democrats and Republicans, especially from states that already outlaw gambling.
Gov. Nikki Haley and South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson endorsed the legislation.
"Allowing Internet gaming to invade the homes of every American family and to be piped into our dens, living rooms, workplaces, and even our kids' bedrooms and dorm rooms is a major decision," Haley wrote in a Monday letter to congressional leaders. "We must carefully examine the short- and long-term social and economic consequences before Internet gambling spreads."
In a legal opinion issued December 2011, the Justice Department said only online sports betting is covered by the Wire Act of 1961.
Graham on Wednesday called the opinion a "huge legal stretch." He said he would feel that way even if the opinion had come from a Republican administration.
Since the opinion, three states — Nevada, New Jersey and Delaware — have decided to allow some type of online gaming, and many others are considering it.
The legislation introduced Wednesday, also supported by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., would undo the 2011 legal opinion and would not grandfather in Nevada, New Jersey or Delaware. It would not affect traditional retail lottery sales or gambling establishments in places with legalized gambling, according to Graham's office.
Graham denied allegations that the bill is a favor to casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, a top donor to Republican campaigns. He said South Carolina's ban on video poker is a sign the state opposes turning "every cell phone into a video poker terminal."
"I'm on solid footing in South Carolina with the people that I represent, and the fact that Sheldon is on board is a good thing," Graham said. "But I'm doing this because this is what my governor and my attorney general suggested I do and what I feel like I should do."
Adelson and his wife each donated $5,200 to Graham's campaign in May 2013.
The Democratic Governors Association opposes Graham's bill, which will be sponsored in the House by Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah. The governors said it would endanger state revenue from Internet lottery sales and would infringe on states' rights.