DoJ May Issue New Opinion on Wire Act

For years, Sheldon Adelson has been trying to get his Restoration of America’s Wire Act bill to gain any sort of traction in Congress. Senator Lindsey Graham introduced it in the Senate and former Representative Jason Chaffetz even held a couple of hearings related to it in the House, but it never really went anywhere. Well, now, according to Online Poker Report, the U.S. Department of Justice may end up “restoring” the Wire Act for him.

The Federal Wire Act was put in place in 1961 in order to try to fight organized crime. It makes sports betting over communications wires, and thus online sports betting, illegal. As online gambling, including online poker, became popular, the Department of Justice interpreted the Wire Act to mean that all online gambling was illegal.

In late 2011, just around the time we are at right now, the Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) issued a clarification of the Wire Act in response to questions from Illinois and New York, who wanted to begin selling lottery tickets online. The OLC’s opinion was that the Wire Act only applied to sports betting, not all online gambling. Thus, Illinois and New York were free to begin online lottery sales.

This also served as the jumping off point for states to begin legalizing and regulating online poker, provided the poker was just intrastate. Nevada was the first to do so, followed by Delaware and New Jersey. Interstate poker was permitted provided states with legal online poker entered into a compact with each other. All three states have done this, sharing player pools. Pennsylvania legalized online gambling about a year ago, though no sites have launched yet. Michigan is about to do the same, but it will take well over a year for any poker to start.

The OLC’s opinion got Sheldon Adelson into action, as he sees online gambling as a threat to his brick-and-mortar gaming empire (though he tries to claim otherwise). That is why he got his cronies to write the Restoration of America’s Wire Act. He wants the previous, incorrect, interpretation of Wire Act to be inked into law.

What Online Poker Report has reported is that the Department of Justice is now looking to do what it did in 2011: issue an opinion on the Federal Wire Act. That opinion is said to be that the old interpretation – that it applies to all online gambling – was the correct one after all.

Interestingly, the way it sounds – and this is me speculating – is that the Justice Department just wants to make online gambling illegal because…reasons. And it wants to do so without going through an actual legislative process. Fortunately, if a new opinion on the Wire Act is issued, it won’t change the law. It just changes the official interpretation. Is it possible that it’s a threat to states legalizing online poker? Sure, it’s possible. But odds are, it won’t change much, especially for states that have already passed legislation.

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