U.S. Online Poker Players Win Big in Wire Act Interpretation Appeal

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Online poker players in the U.S. are likely to benefit from the recent ruling on the Wire Act.

In what is seen as a big win for interstate online poker, the First Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled in favor of the New Hampshire Lottery Commission in their case against the U.S. Department of Justice and its revised opinion of the Wire Act.

As originally reported by OnlinePokerReport.com, the ruling upholds the decision of a lower court that the reinterpretation of the Wire Act by the Department of Justice in 2018 is incorrect. In that revised opinion, the DOJ sought to expand the coverage of the Wire Act beyond sports betting to include all forms of gambling which included lotteries and online poker.

The Wire Act of 1961 was originally enacted to prohibit the use of “wire communication” to assist in the interstate placing bets or wagers (or the collection of earnings) in any “sporting event or contest.” In 2011, the DOJ released an opinion that events and activities that fall outside of the “sporting event” wording are outside of the Wire Act’s purview. Then, in 2018, the DOJ reversed itself and attempted to extend the law’s coverage.

The appellate court’s decision is a potential boom for online poker in the United States. Even though online poker was not at the forefront of the New Hampshire Lottery Commission’s case, the industry should benefit providing the decision stands. It clears up the legality of whether states that legalize online poker, as Pennsylvania and Michigan have recently done, can join or create their own interstate network as Nevada, New Jersey, and Delaware have already done with WSOP.com being the first and only network to date to take advantage of the opportunity.

In addition to opening the gates for new states to join an interstate network, it also reinforces that what has already been established can continue to grow. Prior to the 2019 World Series of Poker, organizers were unclear if players in New Jersey would be allowed to participate in online bracelet events as they had in year’s past due to the language in the DOJ’s 2018 interpretation. After an initial loss in federal court about the Wire Act, the DOJ let it be known that they would not start enforcing on other forms of gambling until 2020 at the earliest.

Now, the decision by the First Circuit Court of Appeals leaves the DOJ, should it choose to proceed, the final option of appealing to the Supreme Court of the United States. Given the current political landscape, the DOJ may choose not to do this in which case the lawsuit would be complete and the interpretation nullified. The Supreme Court may also opt not to hear the case which would be an end to matters as well.

The new presidential administration will likely be a factor as well. According to Bloomberg News Network, President Biden is on record as not supporting the DOJ’s Wire Act expansion. Additionally, as reported by CDC Gaming Reports, back in December 2019 the Biden campaign issued a statement saying that Biden “doesn’t support adding unnecessary restrictions to the gaming industry like the Trump Administration has done.”

With this being the likely end of the line for the case, players in New Jersey, Nevada, and Delaware are likely to see some new screen names at the tables as online poker in the U.S. prepares to expand in 2021.

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