Ruling on Wire Act Could Adversely Affect States’ Rights Regarding Online Gaming

Attorney General Jeff Sessions could soon rule on Wire Act
Attorney General Jeff Sessions could soon rule on Wire Act

A ruling on the legal interpretation of the 1961 federal Wire Act, that could soon come from Attorney General Jeff Sessions, could adversely effect online gambling in many states. Since the 2011 Justice Department interpretation that concluded the Wire Act did not prohibit states from legalizing and regulating online gambling, several states have exercised their rights to allow online gambling within their state borders. When asked about during his confirmation hearings earlier this year, Sessions said he would revisit the interpretation and ruling from 2011. If that interpretation is overturned, and the Wire Act is ruled to prohibit online gambling in all 50 states, those states that have allowed regulated gambling could be forced to shut down their legalized gambling.

Many Americans learned of both the success and effectiveness in which New Jersey has implemented regulated online gambling during the hearing held last summer before the House Oversight Committee chaired by Rep. Jason Chaffetz. A sponsor of legislation to federally ban online gambling in all 50 states, titled the “Restoration of America’s Wire Act” (RAWA), Chaffetz held the hearing to build support for his bill. However, the result was just the opposite, experts and others testified about how technology allows states to implement regulated online gambling while blocking participation from citizens of states that prohibit gambling online. Additionally, those involved in the implementation of online gambling in New Jersey testified about how that is working out.

Operators of online casinos in New Jersey not only claim success, but have also stated the online casinos have bolstered the brick-and-mortar casinos there, contrary to claims that online gambling would adversely affect them. Online casinos have grown for the past 16 months, and revenues each of the last two years have exceeded those of the previous year. The states of Delaware is having success with online gambling, while nearby Pennsylvania is considering legalizing gambling online as well.

The implementation and regulation of online gambling has been done well in New Jersey. After almost two years, there have been no major problems. There has been no cases of underage gambling in New Jersey, or anyone else getting around the safeguards that block participation from those in states where online gambling is illegal. The one instance of a online casino not playing by the rules resulted in that site being shut down. It should be remembered, that the only other alternative of unregulated and illegal online casinos located overseas, would cause far more problems.

Pennsylvania and New York could join Delaware and New Jersey soon in legalizing online gambling. Massachusetts, which has the country’s most successful lottery in percentage of population that participates in it, could also soon allow regulated gambling online.

Regulated and legalized gambling is succeeding in these states because there is a consumer demand for it, and it is possible because clearly the technology allows successful implementation without it being forced on those citizens who wish to abstain from gambling online (or any gambling), and those states that exercise their rights to prohibit online gambling within their states borders.

The state of Utah is free to ban online gambling while New Jersey, Nevada, and Delaware allow it. The 2011 interpretation of the Wire Act, and the recognition that gambling policy should be decided at the state level consistent with the Tenth Amendment, works for everyone and all states. Overturning that 2011 Wire Act interpretation could create chaos, and while violating the rights of those states that decided to legalize online gambling.

What we have is working and does not need to be “fixed” by changing that 2011 ruling. We can only hope that Attorney General Sessions will take into account these issues, and decide upon revisiting the Wire Act ruling to leave in it place as it was issued in 2011. Such a ruling will uphold the rights of all the states to decide their own future in regard to online gambling. That is how federalism under our Constitution and the Tenth Amendment is supposed to work.

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