Rep. Pat Garofalo introduced a bill that if passed would keep Minnesota from enforcing its ban of online gambling. The state "has better things to do," Garofalo said.
A state representative wants to prevent state law enforcement from following through on its effort to keep Minnesotans from gambling online.
Rep. Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington, introduced legislation Monday that would bar the Department of Public Safety from forcing Internet service providers (ISPs) to block access to 200 online gambling sites that the state wants targeted.
The legislation comes in response to a letter sent last week from the state Alcohol and Gambling Enforcement Division to 11 ISPs directing them to block the sites. There is no indication yet that any of the ISPs intend to act on the state's directive.
Minnesota says all online gambling within the state is illegal, even if the games are hosted outside the United States. Operators of these types of sites are most commonly in the United Kingdom and the Caribbean.
Written notices from the division were served Monday to AT&T Internet Services, Charter Communications, Comcast Cable, DirecTV, Dish Network, Embarq and Sprint/Nextel, Frontier Communications, Qwest, Verizon Wireless and Wildblue Communications.
In making the announcement, John Willems, director of the state's Alcohol and Gambling Enforcement Division, made sure to alert players in Minnesota that any balances they have with online gambling sites could be in peril if access is denied.
"The Department of Public Safety has to have better things to do with their time than to go after a college kid in his dorm room or some guy sitting in his basement spending a couple of hours playing online poker," Garofalo said Monday afternoon. "Demanding that a private-sector Internet service provider block access to websites is not a proper function of our state government."
Willems expressed disappointment with the bill's introduction, saying, "It reflects a 180-degree turn from the current enforcement efforts towards illegal online gambling, particularly those that are being currently undertaken" by his agency.
As for how the ISPs are reacting to his agency's initiative, Willems said: "We have not heard from the ISPs apart from Dish TV, which has told me that they work with a third-party company to provide Internet access to their customers who need it."
Garofalo's legislation would stop such an action by the state unless there is legislative approval.
"I'm certainly not condoning online gambling," Garofalo said. "But I have serious concerns about government banning access to websites. This is the kind of thing they do in communist China, not the United States of America.
"Besides, how about we focus on balancing the state's $6.4 billion budget deficit and not harassing Minnesotans anymore than Democrat legislative leaders are already trying to do."
Paul Walsh • 612-673-4482