There has been over a decade of dispute about the Interstate Wire Act of 1961's interpretations. But this is likely to end as a Rhode Island District Court judge ruled that the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has to state that the law is only applicable to sports gambling and not online poker.
The ruling is a huge win for the country's online poker industry, and the court made it in a November 2021 case that International Game Technology (IGT) filed against the DOJ. It wanted the Justice Department to declare its stand on the Wire Act. Also, it requested a declaratory judgment that the DOJ won't charge them for offering non-sports gambling under the Wire Act.
District Judge William E. Smith issued a summary judgment on September 15, siding with IGT. He denied the Justice Department's motion to end the case, thus permitting the gaming firm to operate in different states without being prosecuted.
IGT filed a case after a 2019 lawsuit between the DOJ and New Hampshire Lottery Commission. A Federal District Court judge ruled in the case against a DOJ interpretation of the Act that stated that the law is applicable in all types of gambling. It was a reversal of a 2011 DOJ opinion in President Barack Obama's era, and a U.S. District Court upheld it later.
The DOJ didn't oppose the court's decision, and it allowed a June 2021 deadline to appeal to the Supreme Court to pass. Even so, it didn't formally denounce a 2018 opinion, thus making many players and stakeholders worry that it might change its position later.
IGT requested in its lawsuit a declaratory judgment that the Act is inapplicable in its non-sports betting operations. It added that the New Hampshire ruling had a narrow scope and the DOJ could prosecute it later.
The IGT vs. DOJ Lawsuit Ruling
The DOJ assured IGT that it wouldn't prosecute it soon. But, Judge Smith disagreed and noted in his summary judgment that the DOJ's change in positions has caused widespread uncertainty that is adversely affecting IGT's operations.
Smith wrote that IGT shouldn't be indicted as the DOJ claims to deliberate without ending the legal question it had answered earlier. Besides, it didn't give a valid reason to get a favorable answer to the plaintiffs.
The Judge argued that the judgment will clarify and settle legal relations on the issue and offer relief from the controversy, insecurity, and uncertainty. His ruling allowed further interpretation. He stated that the Wire Act applies to contests and sports wagers.
Will it Impact Online Poker?
IGT's win in the Justice Department lawsuit might have other implications for the country's online poker market that ruptured on the 2011 Black Friday. If the DOJ repeals the 2018 decision, the uncertainty that the Wire Act is only applicable to sports gambling rather than lottery, poker, and other types of online gambling will be resolved.
The Act's clarity will allow Pennsylvania, Michigan, New Jersey, and Nevada to allow online poker. Also, it will allow states that legalized online poker to merge player pools in different state lines using interstate poker compacts.