The Interstate Wire Act of 1961 only applies to sports betting, ruled a federal judge when granting summary judgment to the New Hampshire Lottery Commission.

The commission had sued the federal government seeking an interpretation of the Interstate Wire Act.

The New Hampshire Lottery Commission got its way after the judge ruled that the Wire Act only applies to sports betting.

Therefore, the 2018 interpretation of the Wire Act by the Office of Legal Counsel was consequently set aside. The ‘skewed’ interpretation ruled that the wire act applies to all forms of interstate gaming, online poker included, that rely on wire communication to transmit gaming data across state lines.


The Different Interpretations of the Wire Act

There have been several wire act interpretations over the years which continue to define interstate online gaming.

First, the 2011 interpretation found that the Act only applied to sports betting. Basing on this interpretation, states started the decision-making process on offering online lottery and online poker.

However, interstate gaming was momentarily stopped by the 2018 interpretation that ruled that the wire act applied to all forms of interstate gaming.

The recent interpretation has put U.S. online poker back on track.


Ambiguous wording

The different interpretations could be due to the grammar used in the statute itself. During the hearings, both the New Hampshire Lottery and the federal government tried to use the ambiguous wording of the statute to argue their case.

However, US District Court Judge Paul Barbadoro ruled that even though neither interpretation was clearly supported grammatically, the context of the statute is crystal clear that it was intended to apply to sports betting.

“While the syntax employed by the Wire Act’s drafters does not suffice to answer whether [the law] is limited to sports gambling, a careful contextual reading of the Wire Act as a whole reveals that the narrower construction proposed by the 2011 OLC Opinion represents the better reading,” Judge Barbadoro wrote. “The Act’s legislative history, if anything, confirms this conclusion.”

Had the District Court upheld the 2018 interpretation, New Hampshire’s online lottery sales would have been considered illegal.

Judge Barbadoro heavily relied on the 2011 interpretation in his summary judgment.

“It is worth remembering that the 2011 [OLC memo] responded to a request from two states for an opinion as to whether they could sell lottery tickets online without violating the Wire Act,” the judge wrote.

“In concluding that the Wire Act did not apply to non-sports gambling such as lotteries, the 2011 Opinion did not even hint at the possibility that states would be exempt from the Act’s prescriptions. Had the OLC believed that states were excluded from the Act’s coverage, it could have responded to the states’ request by simply informing them that they were not subject to the Act.”


Final word

The ruling is without a doubt a win for U.S online poker. Any other interpretation of the statute could have put online poker in jeopardy since it could have deemed transmission of data between states illegal as well as shared interstate player pools which would have complicated interstate gaming.



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