On January 14, 2019, the U.S. Department of Justice published a legal opinion that may restrict online gambling. The opinion, dated November 2, 2018, (although only now published) reconsidered the DOJ’s 2011 opinion that declared the Wire Act (18 U.S.C. § 1084) only applied to sports gambling. After the release of the 2011 opinion, several states, including New Jersey, Delaware and Pennsylvania, launched or moved forward with intrastate online lottery, casino gaming and poker. The new opinion, however, somewhat clouds the landscape regarding these operations. Online gaming businesses would be well advised to quickly determine whether their operations comply with the DOJ’s new reading.
The reconsideration stems from one phrase in the Wire Act: “on any sporting event or contest.” In 2011, the DOJ opined that the Wire Act was ambiguous and “that the more logical result” was that the phrase “on any sporting event or contest” applied to the entirety of the Wire Act, thereby prohibiting only the transmission of “bets or wagers” or “information assisting in the placing of bets or wagers” across state lines, if the bet or wager were on a sporting event. This logic follows in part from the Act’s legislative history, which reveals that Congress’ overriding goal in passing the Wire Act was to stop the use of wire communications by organized crime for illegal sports gambling. In 2018, the Supreme Court of the United States, in Murphy v. Nat’l Collegiate Athletic Ass’n—a decision that paved the way for states to authorize sports betting, in dicta—noted Congress’ original intent in characterizing a general federal approach to gambling: Operating a gambling business violates federal law only if that conduct is illegal under state or local law.
Read the full Duane Morris Alert.
Duane Morris’ Adam Berger, an associate in the firm’s Cherry Hill office, is featured in the July 2017 Global Gaming Business Magazine article, “The Art of Watching, Listening and Learning.”
Read Mr. Berger’s profile on the Global Gaming Business Magazine website.
On February 12, 2014, the Pennsylvania House of Representatives’ Gaming Oversight Committee held a hearing to receive testimony regarding the prospects of legalizing electronic gaming devices, i.e video gaming machines, in the Commonwealth. The hearing focused on gaming along the lines of what was raised in a prior session’s bill, (2014 House Bill No 1932), which sought to legalize video gaming machines for bingo, keno, blackjack and other games for use in establishments with valid liquor licenses, such as restaurants, bars, taverns, hotels and clubs.
With a looming budgetary deficit Pennsylvania legislators are exploring various ways to increase gaming related tax revenue, including potentially moving forward with internet gaming through its existing bricks and mortar casinos. This recent Gaming Oversight Committee hearing revisiting the video gaming machines issue would be another means through which to generate gaming based tax revenue. The hearing’s witnesses touted the jobs and tax revenues generated by Illinois which implemented video gaming machines in bars, restaurants, taverns and truck stops several years ago – (projected IL tax revenues in excess of $250 million in 2015). While Illinois has had success generating tax revenue and producing jobs with its video gaming machine roll out, the machines do compete, on a low end basis with the states’ existing casinos. While local municipalities in Illinois can opt out of the video gaming program that option may not exist in a Pennsylvania bill and opposition from Pennsylvania’s casino industry remains to be seen.
Also, if considering video gaming at bars and taverns Pennsylvania may be well served to learn from some of the mistakes made with the passage of last year’s Tavern games legislation. Tavern games, with its gaming regulatory scrutiny focused on the bars/tavern owners, rather than through the games’ owners and route operators, lead to cost issues and a reluctance to move forward which hampered widespread implementation of tavern gaming. In addition, while Illinois has had relative success with its multi-tiered system of manufacturers, distributors, operators and establishments, that system has one too many layers to operate as effectively as it otherwise could. Few recall Pennsylvania’s short-lived requirement of local suppliers of slot machines layered between the industry’s manufacturers and end user casinos. The removal of the local supplier requirement opened the way to the implementation of Pennsylvania casinos in 2006. Finally the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board and its agencies are more than capable of regulating and rolling out video gaming should it become law. Bringing in other, less experienced state agencies, such as Liquor Control or the Department of Revenue would only further complicate and delay implementation should the law pass.
The New Jersey State Lottery, in existence for more than 42 years, has been a source of significant profit for state institutions and state aid for education. Even so, New Jersey has commenced efforts to privatize certain functions of the lottery, with the ultimate goal of increasing revenue and improviing the lottery’s operation. As the process has moved forward, the coexistence between lottery and casinos has become a topic of possible concern, particularly with the legalization of Internet wagering. Partner Frank DiGiacomo takes a closer look at the relationship between lottery and casinos in New Jersey, and what the partial privatization of the lottery may mean for the casino industry going forward in this article published in New Jersey Lawyer.
PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker on path to online gaming licensing.
The U.S. Department of Justice, (DOJ) Southern District of New York, reached a settlement today with PokerStars on the U.S. Government’s civil charges that the company defrauded customers and evaded U.S. prohibitions on Internet gambling. The DOJ action arose from the Black Friday, April 15, 2011, indictment and civil complaints against PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker and Absolute Poker and its chief executives, which left online poker players in the U.S. in shock and disarray, as detailed in this New York Times blog.
Continue reading DOJ Online Poker Settlement Unleashes Two Top Brands
The Wall Street Journal reported on April 25, 2012, that U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, (D) Nevada, and Sen. Jon Kyl, (R)-Arizona. are preparing legislation which would legalize online poker but outlaw many other forms of online gambling, including the type of internet wagering currently being contemplated by states such as New Jersey, Nevada and California.
The Journal reported that the federal legislation being drafted is “rattling state governments, even though few details have been made public.” The draft legislation purportedly would not only create a federally controlled internet based wagering system for online poker, but it will prohibit individual states from allowing many other forms of online gambling.
Continue reading Federal On-line Wagering Legislation May Pre-Empt States’ Efforts