Group has long advocated for banning online poker and online casino at federal level

Online Gambling Opponent To Float Wire Act ‘Fix’ To Allow Internet Sports Betting In Congressional Hearing

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An anti-online gambling group testifying Thursday in front of a Congressional subcommittee hearing about sports betting will float a “fix” to the Wire Act to allow for online sports wagering, but not necessarily online poker and casino, a source told Online Poker Report.

The idea will come in testimony from the Coalition to Stop Internet Gambling. Jon Bruning, a former Nebraska attorney general, is representing the CSIG in the hearing.

Later, Bruning’s testimony surfaced. Here’s part of it:

Even though the Supreme Court tossed the federal sports betting ban, online sports betting is still illegal. The Wire Act applies to all forms of gambling and even under DOJ’s current interpretation, the Wire Act applies to sports betting.

This means sportsbooks wanting to hedge their risk by establishing a national pool, creating interstate compacts, or laying off bets across state lines – all would do so in violation of the Wire Act.

Bruning’s argument is that “internet gambling is inherently interstate in nature” from his testimony, and is therefore illegal.

The Wire Act and what it does

The Wire Act was enacted in Congress in 1961 to deal with illegal interstate sports betting. The Wire Act does not apply to legal intrastate sports wagering, as we now have in the US in five different states, with more on the way.

The Department of Justice’s current position on the Wire Act is that it only applies to sports betting and not to other forms of online gambling. New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware and Nevada all have legalized forms of online wagering other than sports betting. There is legal online wagering in New Jersey and Nevada, with PA and West Virginia online wagering on the way.

The Congressional hearing this week comes in the wake of the US Supreme Court striking down the federal ban on sports wagering outside of Nevada.

It’s not entirely clear how a “fix” as proposed by the CSIG would work, but the Wire Act still hangs over the head of the nascent US sports betting industry as a problem for conducting wagering on an interstate basis. Allowing for transmission of sports wagering data across state lines would in theory help create more legal clarity for the industry.

More from the CSIG testimony

The CSIG is apparently not against online gambling entirely, any more. Here is more from Bruning’s written testimony:

Which is why there needs to be some federal guardrails regulating online gambling. Our system of government reserves intrastate matters, including the regulation of gambling at brick-and-mortar facilities and intrastate lotteries, for the states. But, Internet gambling is inherently interstate in nature.

States are ill-equipped to enforce gambling laws against interstate and international companies, particularly given the technological vulnerabilities of the Internet and age and location verification mechanisms that are subject to compromise.

Apparently, the group is now advancing the position that legal online sports

Only through vigorous enforcement of the Wire Act will states be able to protect and earn revenue from legal online sportsbooks and gambling. But that can only occur if the Wire Act is fully restored and the law is aggressively enforced by DOJ.

Without proper federal investigatory and prosecutorial resources, our citizens, including children and problem gamblers, will be protected only by the promises of foreign gaming corporations.

“Fully restoring” the Wire Act, given the CSIG’s past stance and that of its main patron, casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, would in theory mean banning other forms of online gambling.

Adelson vs. online gambling

The CSIG is generally believed to be bankrolled by Las Vegas Sands chairman Adelson, a vehement opponent to the expansion of online gambling in the US.

Adelson has been pushing a Congressional bill for years that would ban all forms of online gambling, called the Restoration of America’s Wire Act. Despite several appearances over the years, it has never gotten much traction.

Adelson’s properties in Las Vegas allow for mobile sports wagering already via third-party bookmaker CG Technology.

It’s not clear how a group that claims to be against all forms of internet wagering can still advocate for its regulation, but it will advance that position anyway.

- Dustin Gouker has been a sports journalist for more than 15 years, working as a reporter, editor and designer -- including stops at The Washington Post and the D.C. Examiner. He has played poker recreationally for his entire adult life and has written about poker since 2008.
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