Senator Lindsey Graham (R – SC) and Congressman Jason Chaffetz (R – Utah) introduced the Restoration of America’s Wire Act Wednesday, a bill which would do exactly what it says: reverse the most recent Department of Justice’s interpretation of the Wire Act of 1961.
The Interstate Wire Act of 1961 made it illegal to use wire communications (read: phone lines) for sports betting. The ultimate goal of the legislation was to curb organized crime. Once internet gambling became popular, however, the Department of Justice informally interpreted the Wire Act to include all internet gambling, not just betting on sports. In late December 2011, the DoJ clarified its opinion, proclaiming, “interstate transmissions of wire communications that do not relate to a ‘sporting event or contest’ fall outside the reach of the Wire Act.”
That revised interpretation, though unfortunately coming after Black Friday (then again, Black Friday was related more to the UIGEA), opened the door for states to legalize and regulate online gambling. There are now three states – Nevada, Delaware, and New Jersey – that have done so. Nevada and Delaware also recently signed an agreement to allow players from each state to play on the poker sites of the other.
Opponents of online gambling are not happy that those three states have gotten their internet gaming industries up and running. The Restoration of America’s Wire Act would essentially tell the Department of Justice that its new opinion is wrong and force upon it its old one. No longer would the Wire Act only apply to sports betting; it would once again be interpreted as prohibiting all internet gambling (even though it only specifies sports betting).
In a press release issued Wednesday, Senator Graham began by invoking partisan politics rather than giving a logical reason for wanting to roll back the Wire Act, saying, “This is yet another example of the Holder Justice Department and Obama Administration ignoring the law.”
Rep. Chaffetz did eventually get to some sort of substance, adding, “The DOJ opened the door for massive change in policy without significant public input. These fundamental changes need to go through Congress. By restoring the original interpretation of the Wire Act, we are putting the genie back in the bottle and allowing for an open debate to take place.”
The Poker Players Alliance (PPA) quickly responded to the bills’ introduction with a statement of its own.
“These bills trample on the rights of states, but of greater concern is the fact that they will deny consumers of any meaningful protections that can only be achieved through responsible state or federal regulation,” said John Pappas, executive director of the PPA.
He continued, “For years, the PPA has fought to provide players with a safe and regulated environment to play poker online across the nation. These bills amount to a prohibition, plain and simple, and they deny the realities of today’s online world. If enacted, they would only serve to expand an unregulated market that protects no one.”