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DoJ Delays Enforcement of New Wire Act Opinion Till 2020


Though many in the online gaming industry were displeased at the Department of Justice's (DoJ) overly broad reinterpretation of the Wire Act released early this year, actual enforcement has not yet begun. In fact, in a document dated June 12, Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen directed all assistant attorneys general and the Federal Bureau of Investigation to forbear from commencing legal actions that rely on the new opinion until after “December 31, 2019 or 60 days after entry of final judgment in the New Hampshire litigation, whichever is later.”

Jeff RosenDeputy AG Jeff Rosen Ordered a Moratorium on Certain Wire Act Prosecutions

[UPDATE: Dec. 23, 2019]

With the original deadline of Dec. 31 for suspended Wire Act enforcement fast approaching, the Department of Justice has seen fit to extend it further. Deputy Attorney General Jeff Rosen issued a new memo on Dec. 18 stipulating that this timeframe will be extended until June 30, 2020.

In his reasoning for arriving at this decision, Rosen cited the ongoing legal process of appealing the court ruling that found the DoJ's new interpretation of the Wire Act to be invalid. Because his original June document already contained language saying that the new Wire Act instructions would be suspended pending the final resolution of this case, it appears at first glance that this new letter changes nothing. It's probably just an instance of Rosen being overly careful not to send mixed messages to the public.

2019 Wire Act Developments

Wall Calendar

In January of this year, the US Department of Justice released a revised opinion of The Wire Act, which concluded that the 1960s legislation covered (and thus prohibited) more than just sports betting alone. In effect, the newly-revised opinion made all forms of gambling that crossed state lines illegal, including online poker and casino games. Prior to this, it was determined that The Wire Act only applied to sports betting wagers and related information that was streaming from one state to another.

Up until recently, the Federal Government only utilized The Wire Act to crack down on illegal sports betting. Because there still exists no legal, regulated interstate sports betting network in the US, these previous opinions did not create such a stir except among offshore sportsbooks, which were basically free to ignore it, being largely immune to federal law enforcement.

The January 2019 opinion, however, meant that the many interstate lottery networks as well as newly developed interstate online poker networks (like that conducted under the auspices of the Multi-State Internet Gaming Agreement between Nevada, Delaware, and New Jersey) were operating outside of the realm of law. As you might expect, this opinion was not well-received by the public and was immediately met with opposition from individual states, beginning with New Hampshire.

Interstate Poker StatesNew Jersey, Nevada,and Delaware Are Parties to
The Multi-State Internet Gaming Agreement

As a result of the public and state backlash, the DoJ was quick to delay enforcement of the new opinion until the middle of April, but then later moved it back until the middle of June.

Now, in the wake of losing a June 3 verdict in favor of New Hampshire, the DoJ has ordered a delay in enforcement until December 31st “or 60 days after entry of a final judgment in the New Hampshire litigation, whichever is later.” In all likelihood, this saga may continue into 2020 and well beyond.

What is the 1961 Interstate Wire Act?

File Folder

To provide a bit of background, the Wire Act was created in an effort to stop organized crime from profiting off of illegal sportsbook operations. Ever since the dawn of internet poker, gambling, and sports betting, the Act – penned long before the internet existed – has been applied to make online betting illegal for operators.

There is plenty of opposition to the DoJ’s insistence on using a piece of legislation that predates the internet to govern actions that take place over the web; however, this is a position that has been taken by the DoJ time and time again.

So How Does New Hampshire Fit In?

Map of NH
Question Mark

Being that New Hampshire is not exactly known as a state with a plethora of gambling, it may be surprising to find out that they were leading the fight against the DoJ’s January 2019 opinion.

In the immediate wake of the aforementioned opinion, the State of New Hampshire filed suit against the DoJ – specifically Attorney General William Barr. This suit was filed because the DoJ’s new opinion would mean that New Hampshire’s lottery (which has games that can be won by residents of New Hampshire, Maine, and Vermont) was operating illegally by offering games that were played across state lines.

Other states, like Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Michigan, filed what are known as amicus briefs after New Hampshire filed its suit. Without digging into it too much, an amicus brief in this context is a filing where states announce their basic and fundamental support for a side in an argument: in this case, New Hampshire’s.

If you’re wondering why the New Hampshire decision was not good enough to undo the January DoJ opinion, this is due to the fact that an appeal is forthcoming from the US Federal Government. Even US District Court Judge Paul Barbadoro, who reversed the DoJ’s new interpretation, predicted that his decision would not be the final nail in the coffin. In fact, there are strong feelings that this case may make its way all the way to the Supreme Court.

Paul BarbadoroJudge Paul Barbadoro Fully Expects His Decision to Be Appealed

There is still much fighting left to be done, but it is clear to see that states with a vested interest in legal interstate online gaming are not going to go away quietly.

Congress Chiming in as Well

Pages of a Document

Most people would assume that Congress and the Department of Justice walk hand in hand, but that is not always the case. Members of the House Rules Committee led a fight to prevent the DoJ from enforcing its January decision.

In June, an amendment was introduced to an appropriations bill that would make it impossible for the DoJ to enforce their newly formed opinion. Lawmakers from Georgia and Kentucky were the leaders of the amendment and received a lot of support from Congress in general as many members come from states that benefit greatly from tax revenues brought in by interstate lottery and online poker networks.

In short, the amendment quite literally stated that the usable funds set forth in the HR 3055 appropriations bill would not be authorized for use in the enforcement of the DoJ’s new stance on interstate gaming. However, the bill was passed out of the Rules Committee and then approved by the entire House of Representatives without the amendment coming up for a vote. Still, there may be another opportunity to alter the bill as needed while it proceeds through the Senate.

Capitol BuildingSome Members of Congress Disagree With the DoJ's Views on the Wire Act

What this entire situation tells us is that it may not even matter if the New Hampshire decision is reversed and the January opinion is upheld. If that does prove to be how this story ends, Congress very well might tie the DoJ’s hands. With that said, however, states may still be wary about blatantly undermining the DoJ. No matter which way you flip it, there is still plenty to look forward to before the dust settles.

Department of Justice Wire Act Delay

Offshore Gaming Exempt from US Judicial and Political Turmoil

Computer Money Transaction

The state of online gambling in the U.S.A is in flux as various legal and political disputes play themselves out. Yet, there's a group of reputable companies in this industry that are mostly immune to whatever happens. They're offshore organizations that are glad to transact in the American marketplace yet are outside the practical reach of the U.S. authorities.

It's perfectly legal for you, an individual customer, to partake of the services of international internet betting and gaming houses. None of the federal laws that target this activity apply to regular bettors and players; they're instead concerned with the managers and owners of these sites. Therefore, you needn't fear any prosecution if you should elect to head online and play.

For a rundown of the leading offshore poker sites, check out our comprehensive page on internet poker in the United States of America. If you'd rather bet on sports, then we've compiled a list of trustworthy online sportsbooks that accept U.S. bettors. Finally, you can enjoy casino entertainments via any of our recommended America-friendly online casinos.