In 1961, Congress passed The Wire Act, which was immediately signed by late President John F. Kennedy. The intent of the law was to prevent the flow of money via wire transfers or credit cards between gamblers and illegal bookmaking operations. Keeping in mind the internet was nothing more than a fantasy at that time, this was the only thing The Wire Act of 1961 was passed to do.
Fast forward to 2020, and we do have the internet. The internet has quickly become a favorite portal to many forms of adult and child entertainment. For adults in the US, online gambling is a fairly new entertainment option. In eight states right now, it is legal for state residents 21 years of age or older to bet on sports or play online casino games of chance for real cash. That includes NJ online gambling. How do we reconcile that number of 8 states where online gambling is legal to the 23 total states where sports gambling has been legalized in the last 2 years? The difference is the existence of The Wire Act.
In 2011, the US Department of Justice (DOJ) saw a need to clarify its position on The Wire Act as online lottery and horse racing sites began popping up. In its 2011 interpretation guidelines, the DOJ made clear The Wire Act was only applicable to sports gambling. In December of 2018, the New DOJ under Attorney General William Barr changed its position, stating the law was applicable to all forms of gambling.
Keeping in mind that online gambling could only flourish if gamblers can fund their gambling activities via electronic wires (bank transfers, debit/credit cards, third party wires like Western Union), existing online gambling providers panicked. It resulted in the New Hampshire Lottery Commission suing the DOJ over its new position, a case that was decided in the Lottery’s favor in mid-2019. The DOJ has appealed.
With the law clearly unsettled, states like New York have passed sports gambling legislation while avoiding online sports and casino gambling altogether. Other states are also waiting on the sidelines.
During the nation’s current fight against the COVID19 pandemic, online gambling enthusiast in state’s where such activities are legal have access to a fun form of adult entertainment. That leaves residents in 42 states to gamble online in foreign countries in violation of another law, The Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006, if they so choose to do so by wiring money.
Maybe, it is time for America to move into the 21st century. Internet gambling is not going away, it is growing as fast as any industry in the US. The Wire Act is outdated and needs to be abolished. That is exactly what will likely happen if the DOJ loses its appeal. The real beneficiaries would be the online gambling sites that would be springing up in mass as well as millions of US adults who would not longer need to migrate to land based casinos and sports books to do what is already legal to do, gamble.