The Wire Act Court Case Update: What It Means For Online Poker & Casino

Editor’s note: The original story was incorrect has been recast on the meaning of the mandate and the status of the Wire Act case; Online Poker Report regrets the error. 

The legal saga surrounding the Wire Act is one step closer to ending, meaning legal forms of gambling like online poker, casino and lottery may soon have less to worry about when it comes to federal law.

Mandate issued in Wire Act case

The First Circuit Court of Appeals issued the mandate of its ruling from January in New Hampshire Lottery Commission vs. Garland. The ruling of the First Circuit was that the Wire Act applies only to sports betting and not to other forms of interstate gambling.

This does not exhaust a potential appeal to the US Supreme Court, however, as first reported by PokerFuse. It does mean there will not be a rehearing of the case in the First Circuit.

The New Hampshire Lottery had been challenging the Department of Justice under former President Donald Trump over a 2018 memo that said the Wire Act applies to all forms of interstate gambling, and not just sports wagering.

The legal guidance from the DOJ put all manners of gambling in some legal risk, from online casinos and poker rooms in New Jersey and Pennsylvania to multi-state lottery games like Powerball.

Here is the short mandate of the court:

Biden and the Wire Act

The DOJ changed leadership with new President Joe Biden; Biden’s administration and Attorney General Merrick Garland have not yet appealed the ruling. Biden indicated in the past that he did not support the Trump guidance, although the issue has not come up since he took office in January.

The administration of former President Barack Obama issued the original guidance on the Wire Act via the DOJ. That guidance states that the Wire Act applied only to sports betting and opened the door for state-regulated online gambling.

Biden was the vice president at the time; alongside his previous comments on the Wire Act, it seems exceedingly likely that the case will be appealed. Even if it is appealed, it would have to be granted an appeal by the US Supreme Court and then get a nod from a majority of justices there.

Admittedly, that’s what happened in the federal case on the federal sports betting ban that fell in the Supreme Court in 2018. New Jersey lost its case three times in the federal court system before getting its day in SCOTUS and winning there.

Still, New Jersey was a willing appellee. It’s not clear that Biden’s DOJ is.

What it means for online poker etc.

The end of the case, should it soon be over, would be unquestionably good news for online poker and other forms of online gambling. It would give more clarity to online poker as a legal interstate activity taking place in NJ, Delaware and Nevada, and it could pave the way for more liquidity sharing across state lines.

Wire Act concerns have at least created the possibility of legal problems related to interstate poker. While we’re not sure if Michigan or Pennsylvania will join an interstate poker compact, there would be less legal reason not to once the case officially concludes.

For lottery products, the end of the case would provide legal clarity as well. Lottery operators have worried that things like the big interstate draw games were put into jeopardy by the Trump DOJ guidance. The routing of data for online casino platforms — which is a ring-fenced product in any state for bettors — is also a concern in the case.

- 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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