US Gaming Experts Advise Caution

There has been great enthusiasm among online poker players about the recent DOJ reinterpretation of the 1961 wire act in the US. While poker players may be rejoicing internet bingo players have been left in the dark about just what the decision means to them. The legal opinion was in response to inquiries by Illinois and New York about online lottery ticket sales. In a letter to the DOJ Senate Majority Lead Harry Reid and Senator Jon Kyl asked for clarification on the legality of internet gambling. The decision implied that individual states have the right to license and regulate intrastate internet gambling. For years the DOJ took the position that the wire act prohibited all forms of internet gambling including internet bingo. In a letter answering the two Senators questions Assistant Attorney General Ronald Weich stated “The Wire Act only applies to the transmission of bets or information assisting in the placing of bets or wagers relating to sporting events or contests.”

After addressing the questions about lotteries Weich clarified the department’s position on other forms of internet gambling. Weich wrote “Although the OLC conclusion differs from the Department’s previous interpretation of the Wire Act, it reflects the Department’s position in Congressional testimony at the time the Wire Act was passed in 1961. It also provides much needed clarity to those state governments that would like to permit wholly in-state, non-sports Internet gambling, including Internet lotteries.” Weich warned that in places where internet gambling remained illegal the DOJ would prosecute violators. In a further statement that should be troublesome to online bingo and gaming operators Weich warned “Of course, if Congress wishes to give the federal government greater enforcement authority over non-sports related Internet gambling, it could do so by amending the Wire Act.” This means that the liberalized enforcement policies could be changed at any time by congress.

Reaction to the memo was swift and John Pappas of the Poker Player’s Alliance stated “For years, legal scholars and even the courts have debated whether the Wire Act applies to non-sporting activity. Today’s announcement validates the fact that Internet poker does not violate this law.” The memo seems to indicate that other forms of gambling besides poker would be legal. The memo clearly states that only sports betting will remain illegal. This could open the American internet bingo market and spur further growth in the bingo sector. Many experts advise caution because the political pendulum swings back and forth and what is legal today could be illegal after the upcoming elections if a new administration takes office.