The Department of Justice under the Trump Administration has caused issues with the online gambling industries in the US due to a new interpretation of the Wire Act. In 2011, the Wire Act was reinterpreted during the Obama Administration to include only interstate sports betting. This allowed states to legalize forms of online gaming such as the lottery, casino and poker games. The new interpretation involves all interstate online gambling. This new ruling has wreaked havoc on the industries, with lawsuits filed. Now, Congress is in the mix having made a move to block funding for the enforcement of the new interpretation.
Rules Committee members filed an amendment this week regarding an appropriations bill that will block funding that would be used to enforce the new Wire Act interpretation. The primary sponsor of the amendment is Representative Hank Johnson. He is joined by Representative Sanford Bishop and Representative Andy Barr as sponsors.
The proposal wastes no time and gets right to the point, stating that none of the funds made available by the Act may be used to enforce the new memorandum titled Reconsidering Whether the Wire Act Applies to Non-Sports Gambling.
The amendment is to be voted on this week and while it will not affect the law in general, it will prevent the Department of Justice from enforcing their new opinion. For proponents of online gambling, this is a positive move that will hopefully help to stop the opinion and see it reverted back to its 2011 standing.
If the Wire Act is enforced it would affect several states now and some in the future. Right now, three states offer online poker and two more are awaiting launch. Two of the three states offer online casino gaming. An additional six states sell lottery tickets online and are also affected by the Wire Act change. The New Hampshire lottery is actually the ones behind a lawsuit filed against the DOJ involving the recent opinion change.
Why the Change?
The decision to revisit the Wire Act and make the change was one that has been questioned from the very beginning. Attorneys General in several states have asked for more information as to what was behind the decision. Many feel that Sheldon Adelson, a strong opponent of online gambling and mega donor to the republican party, specifically Trump, was involved.
So far, the Department of Justice have decided to refuse to release any documents on the new opinion despite New Jersey and Pennsylvania Attorneys General filing Freedom of Information Act. Keeping this information secretive only leads one to believe that Adelson played some role in the decision.
To fight the change, the New Hampshire Lottery Commission filed a lawsuit against the DOJ. Judge Paul Barbadoro filed in their favor at the beginning of June, stating that the 2011 interpretation is the valid one for the Wire Act.
The Department of Justice has yet to respond to the ruling but they are not happy about it. It is expected that the DOJ will fight the ruling and will continue to try to see their new opinion enforced. The most recent amendment addition this week will hopefully be yet another stalling point for the change to help states continue their fight with the federal government.
We will continue to monitor the Wire Act and any new rulings as they are made public.