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DOJ Opinion: Wire Act Applies to All Internet Gambling

November 2, 2018

DOJ reverses a 2011 U.S. Department of Justice Opinion that the Wire Act applies only to betting on sporting events.

The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) announced January 15, 2019 that the Interstate Wire Act of 1961 prohibits online state lottery sales and other gambling, reversing its 2011 opinion that the law applies only to sports betting.

The Wire Act states it is a criminal offense to use “wire communication facilities,” such as telephone, telegraph, or data networks, “for the transmission in interstate or foreign commerce of bets or wagers or information assisting in the placing of bets or wagers on any sporting event or contest.”.

The 2011 DOJ opinion memorandum states that “sporting event or contest” in the law’s text refers only to “information assisting in the placing of bets or wagers,” and does not modify “transmission…of bets or wagers.”

The new DOJ opinion, by Steven A. Engel, assistant attorney general in the office of the legal counsel, reaches exactly the opposite result, “[b]ased upon the plain language of the statute.”

Joe Barnett was managing editor of Budget & Tax News, a publication of The Heartland Institute. He now serves as a volunteer policy advisor.