I doubt that many of us worry much about opinions issued by the U.S. Department of Justice, especially since the DOJ issues literally hundreds of opinions, on hundreds of topics, on a weekly basis. They are not laws, after all.
But, last week, when the DOJ’s Office of Legal Counsel issued a new opinion concerning the 1961 Interstate Wire Act, the online poker industry was not only worried, but holding its collective breath. The opinion reversed the previous stance of 2011 which concluded that the Wire Act only applied to sports betting, opining this time around that the Wire Act applies to online poker as well.
Again, it’s not the law; it’s an opinion that will definitely be tested in the courts. But it’s an opinion that definitely threatens the growth of the online poker industry, hitting hardest those states currently trying to get bills introducing online poker passed in their states. It could also have a major negative impact on the future of interstate compacts like the highly profitable one that exists between New Jersey, Delaware and Nevada.
Former New Jersey State Sen. Raymond Lesniak was a major player in the fight to get online poker in New Jersey and helped create the multistate online poker alliance that facilitates liquidity sharing. He’s ready to step back into the fray and do battle in the courts if necessary. As he told Online Poker Report:
“It looks like I will have to go to court again to straighten out the Justice Department’s overreaching on states’ rights, as I did with sports betting. This opinion is outrageous. It puts state lotteries at risk and state revenues. If Congress won’t fix it, I will through the judicial process.”
The burning question remains: can online poker in the U.S. survive this new Wire Act opinion? Or does it muddy the waters even more concerning which forms of online gaming are legal and which are not. It certainly will make those states that have yet to introduce gaming legislation proceed with caution, if at all.