US Rep. Dina Titus (D-Nev.) is urging the Department of Justice to maintain a narrow interpretation of the Wire Act.
Titus penned a letter to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein today, reiterating that the federal law applies only to sports betting. Congress enacted the law in 1961 as a tool to combat illegal bookmaking operations typical of organized crime.
Titus’ letter provides a direct response to an opposing one authored by Sens. Lindsey Graham and Dianne Feinstein last year. At issue is the intended scope of the Wire Act and whether or not it should be applied to all forms of online gambling.
Titus lays out her arguments
Titus’ case is twofold.
To open, she cites the DOJ’s most-recent interpretation, which was issued in 2011. “As you know,” Titus wrote, “this opinion clarified that the Wire Act only applies to sports betting and does not prohibit other forms of online gaming.”
The language in that opinion is about as clear as it gets, too: “Interstate transmissions of wire communications that do not relate to a ‘sporting event or contest’ fall outside the reach of the Wire Act.”
Lawmakers in 1961 could never have envisioned what online gambling would look like in 2018. In crafting the Wire Act, they specifically focused on the financial crimes associated with bookmaking and mob activity. The DOJ’s 2011 opinion leaves transactions outside of sports betting to other pieces of legislation.
According to Titus, Nevada online gambling is providing a case study on the benefits of a regulated industry. (Nevada has both legal online poker and sports wagering, but not online casino games.) The Silver State sets “the gold standard” for consumer protection, she says, and prohibition is counterproductive.
In Las Vegas, we have seen that a regulated market is always better than an illegal one. Internet gaming will not go away with a reversal of Wire Act guidance; it will merely push more consumers into black markets. A reversal will only hurt business.
As an aside, Titus recently asked Congress to revoke the federal handle tax on sports betting, too. She’s become something of a figurehead for US gambling policy, publicly offering the services of experts in her state to other lawmakers weighing online gambling bills.
Contradicting the arguments from Graham, Feinstein
Titus’ letter directly addresses some mischaracterizations made by the senators.
Last November, Graham and Feinstein implored the DOJ to enforce a broad interpretation of the Wire Act covering all forms of online gambling. That was not its original intent, though, as Titus highlighted. She went one step further, too.
“Graham and Feinstein argued that the Wire Act prohibits online gambling, but what it actually does is make the case for regulation,” she said.
The same can be said for the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006. It’s cited in the Graham-Feinstein letter as the basis for banning online gambling. But Titus clarified that, as well.
The passage of UIGEA in 2006 specifically authorized interstate internet gambling so long as states apply certain safeguards. Congress did not prohibit it, but instead created the parameters under which it could exist.
She fires a few personal jabs, too, calling into question her colleagues’ methods: “The Graham-Feinstein letter uses fear tactics and hyperbolic language to emphasize their distaste for online gambling.”
Facts are the most effective way to counter unsubstantiated claims, and Titus provides the most pertinent piece of logic. Regulated markets, like Nevada, have safeguards in place to prevent (among other things) underage gambling. There are no such requirements for unregulated operators.