DOJ’s Stance on the Wire Act is Merely an Administration’s Opinion

January 2, 2012

Is the recent news from the DOJ regarding the 1961 Wire Act and its application only to sportsbetting (not online poker) too good to be true? Some legal analysts say don’t count your chickens before they’ve hatched.

An online gaming expert and Las Vegas attorney with Lionel Sawyer & Collins, Greg Gemignani, says of the recent DOJ announcement, “This is just an opinion of the Department of Justice and only reflects what the Obama administration would bring charges on. Future departments of justice could interpret the Wire Act differently.”

The opinion of the DOJ can at any time be reversed and withdrawn. Courts can intervene, voiding the DOJ’s memorandum. If Congress passed the DOJ’s ruling into law, then the “opinion” would become permanent, but for now, it’s merely opinion.

An attorney who specializes in gambling laws with K&L Gates LLP in Pennsylvania, Linda Shorey, says, “An opinion of the Office of Legal Counsel can be withdrawn or changed, although it is not often done. Under the US Constitution, only the courts have the authority to determine whether the Wire Act applies to poker wagers. The Department of Justice memo is not binding on the courts.”

In the past, the Wire Act has been ruled in a New Orleans court of appeals that the Wire Act only applied to sportsbetting, but a federal judge in Utah did not share view and ruled opposite. Hopefully Congress will take some action now though to clear things up, though controversial matters such as online gambling are not well received this close to an election.

The executive director of the Poker Players Alliance (PPA), however, believes this is still positive ground for the cause. He says, “This ruling gives states the confidence to move forward with intrastate Internet poker.”

The PPA does however still support federal level legislation rather than intrastate laws.

Pappas adds, “Efforts at the Federal level are going to increase as well. There are a number of lawmakers that feel like it is time for Congress to step in.”


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