In a surprise move by the federal government, the U. S. Department of Justice has clarified its stance on internet gaming that could open the doors for intrastate poker to become a reality in the United States.
The legal opinion was issued by the DoJ on Friday, but the original decision was made back in September in response to a request in July by Senators Harry Reid and Jon Kyl for the DoJ to clarify its position regarding the issue of online gaming and poker. According to the New York Times two states, Illinois and New York, had also asked for clarification from the federal government regarding the Wire Act of 1961, one of the major laws used by the DoJ in pursuit of online gaming and poker.
According to the New York Times, the DoJ has reversed its stance on internet gaming and several states will take advantage of this decision to introduce new lottery games within their borders. The new position does bring the possibility into the mix that individual states or a consortium of states could band together to allow online poker to make a comeback in the United States.
The decision announced on Friday by the DoJ says the new policy “differs from the department’s previous interpretation of the Wire Act, (but) it reflects the department’s position in Congressional testimony at the time the Wire Act was passed in 1961.” The new decision by the DoJ says that the Wire Act only focuses on sports betting and not casino or poker offerings.
Although it reverses the Justice Department’s previous stance that all forms of gambling online are illegal, it does not state that the Justice Department is looking to set regulations for a national online gaming system.
Nevada recently passed legislation that would allow for companies to offer online poker and the new ruling may allow that state to proceed forward with an intrastate online poker offering for its citizens. Earlier this month, the Nevada Gaming Control Board announced that six companies have applied for licenses, but were holding off until the federal government announced a stance. With the change in the DoJ’s opinion, the NGCB may be able to move forward with offering intrastate poker to Nevada residents.
In the District of Columbia, there is a long delayed plan to offer online poker to its residents. The latest decision by the DoJ could pave the way for that plan to actually come to fruition. Other states, such as Iowa, New Jersey, California and Florida, have also considered online poker regulation for its citizens, but previous bills have either been rejected or have been tabled due to the federal government’s opposition to internet gaming.
Whether the states will aggressively attack the new potential for internet poker will be difficult to gauge. The New York Times reports a wide varying amount that internet gaming and poker could bring in – anywhere from $6 billion to $100 billion yearly – and this could be the impetus behind the change in the stance by the federal government. The Times quotes Steven Grossman, the chairman of Massachusetts’ Lottery Commission and the state’s treasurer, as saying, “This will put additional pressure on (the) Congress and others to allow online poker and other internet gambling.”
There is the chance that several states could band together to make an online poker offering more attractive. Much like multi-state lotteries as the PowerBall and Mega Millions and some horse racing, a multi-state online poker offering would be more attractive to states, rather than an individual state that may lack the population to drive big revenues.
The new position by the federal law enforcement authorities comes as the momentum for regulation of the online poker industry in the United States on the federal level seemed to have faded. Although there have been hearings in the House of Representatives regarding the issue – and Texas Representative Joe Barton has a bill for consideration – there has been no vote on the subject.
With the change of opinion by the DoJ, perhaps such legislation can now move forward for a federal solution to online poker in 2012. If that doesn’t occur, then the states now have the right to move forward.