The United States Department of Justice (USDOJ) — a federal executive department of the U.S. government, responsible for the enforcement of the law and administration of justice in the United States — has released a new legal opinion that could further restrict online gambling, making it illegal in all forms, on a federal level.
On Monday, the Department’s Office of Legal Counsel publicly released a November opinion that reverses a previous opinion on the Wire Act released during Barack Obama’s presidential administration. The Wire Act is a federal law passed more than 50 years ago that bans the transmission of gambling data across state lines. In that previous DOJ opinion, released in 2011, the department interpreted the act as applying only to sports gambling.
The criminal division of the department, which prosecutes illegal gambling, apparently prompted the second look at the previous interpretation of the law. In the 23-page opinion that was released on Monday, but dated November 2, the DOJ states that the previous opinion was simply a misinterpretation of the statute.
“Having been asked to reconsider, we now conclude that the statutory prohibitions are not uniformly limited to gambling on sporting events or contests,” the Department stated.
Billionaire casino magnate Sheldon Adelson backs the Coalition to Stop Internet Gambling, a lobbying group that has been pressuring the DOJ to reconsider their previous 2011 opinion on the law. The group released a statement on their website calling the DOJ’s decision a “win for parents, children, and other vulnerable populations.”
It goes on to say, “Today’s decision seamlessly aligns with the Department’s longstanding position that federal law prohibits all forms of internet gambling, as well as with Congress’s intent when it gave law enforcement additional tools to shut down the activity through the overwhelmingly-passed unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act in 2006.”
Impact On State-Legalized Online Gambling
This decision could affect online gambling operations already underway in states like Deleware, Nevada, and New Jersey, as well as other states that have already passed or are in the process of passing legislation to legalize online gambling in the near future. There could also be effects on state-run lotteries that sell tickets online.
This new DOJ opinion is also coming after a Supreme Court decision in 2018 that opened the doors for states to legalize sports gambling online.
The Department’s new opinion on the Wire Act will undoubtedly be tested in US courts as both state governments and interested gambling industry members try to defend valuable online properties that have already been operating for several years.
Meanwhile, Deputy Attorney Rod Rosenstein is expected to issue a memo instructing prosecutors to delay the opinion’s implementation for 90 days to give companies time to adjust, but it is still unclear what all of this will mean for existing online casino operators and players. There will most likely be announcements from both sides in the coming weeks as they try to find some sort of viable solution to what will certainly be a hard-fought legal battle.