US DOJ Reverses Wire Act Opinion – Online Poker in Trouble?

us-department-of-justiceThe US Department of Justice (DoJ) issued a famous opinion on the Wire Act in 2011. Their Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) stated that the Wire Act of 1961 only makes interstate sports betting illegal. They believed that all other regulated forms of interstate online gambling are legal.

However, the US DoJ appears to have had a change of heart. They recently changed their opinion to state that all types of interstate online gaming against the law – not just sports betting.

What Caused the Recent Change in Opinion?

The DoJ’s OLC originally offered their opinion in 2011, after the New York and Illinois lottery commissions wanted to sell online tickets across state lines. They needed clarification on the Wire Act, to which the OLC said that everything except sports betting is fine.

Billionaire Sheldon Adelson, who owns the Las Vegas Sands Corp., complained about the matter. He also formed a group to draft the Restoration of America’s Wire Act (RAWA), which seeks to ban all forms of internet gambling.

Adelson has since thrown lots of money at the matter. It’s very possible that all of his lobbying has convinced the Trump administration to reverse the OLC’s original opinion.

What Exactly Did the OLC Say?

The OLC formed their opinion on November 2, 2018. However, they just published their updated take this week. Here’s a key excerpt from their opinion:

This Office concluded in 2011 that the prohibitions of the Wire Act in 18 U.S.C. § 1084(a) are limited to sports gambling. Having been asked to reconsider, we now conclude that the statutory prohibitions are not uniformly limited to gambling on sporting events or contests.

Only the second prohibition of the first clause of section 1084(a), which criminalizes transmitting “information assisting in the placing of bets or wagers on any sporting event or contest,” is so limited.

The other prohibitions apply to non-
sports-related betting or wagering that satisfy the other elements of section 1084(a).

This isn’t the most-clear legal language from the 23-page document. But the passage appears to say that all internet gaming is illegal, because a “sporting event or contest” isn’t singled out. The newer OLC opinion is an angle shoot that focuses on one tiny aspect of the Wire Act.

This is only an opinion. Therefore, it’s unclear if it will affect the current legal online poker setup. Delaware, New Jersey, and Nevada are all sharing player pools right now.

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