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DoJ hints at good news for US online poker

The US Department of Justice (DoJ) has performed something of a Christmas U-turn this festive season – in a move that will be music to the ears of would-be online poker players in the United States.

The DoJ has given an opinion (originally written in September and made public on Friday) that the 1961 Wire Act applies only to wagers of a sports betting variety, in response to a query from the states of New York and Illinois. The two states had proposals in place for internet lotteries and had requested for the DoJ to clarify the Act’s intent and any potential conflict with the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA).

In the opinion of Assistant Attorney General Virginia A Seitz, the states can proceed with their online lottery plans since lotteries are not sporting events. “Interstate transmissions of wire communications that do not relate to a ‘sporting event or Contest’ ... fall outside of the reach of the Wire Act,” said Seitz in a 13-page document available on the DoJ’s website.

The DoJ followed up their opinion with a letter to Nevada and Arizona senators Harry Reid and Jon Kyl. In the letter Assistant Attorney General Ronald Weich said: “If Congress wishes to give the federal government greater authority over non-sport-related internet gambling, it could do so by amending the Wire Act.”

The mood among US online players will be one of cautious optimism in the wake of Seitz’s opinion and commentators have rushed to give their personal verdicts over the holiday season, with Professor I Nelson Rose arguing on his blog, Gambling And The Law, that because the Wire Act refers to bets on a particular event, poker would be exempt from it because the game of poker is itself the event. “The DoJ has given the online gaming community a big, big present,” he said.

John Pappas, executive director of the Poker Players Alliance, said: “This is a much needed clarification of an antiquated and often confusing law... For years, legal scholars and even the courts have debated whether the Wire Act applies to non-sporting activity. [This] announcement validates the fact that internet poker does not violate this law.”
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