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The Wire Act and Implications for State-Based Legalization of Internet Gambling

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The Wire Act and Implications for State-Based Legalization of Internet Gambling

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This study was originally published on September 30th, 2014 at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas website.

Recognizing the growing threat of organized crime, then U.S. Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy sought to get the “bankrollers and kingpins” by introducing the Federal Wire Act in 1961, which sought to target the mob’s most profitable racket—bookkeeping on horseracing and sports gambling by prohibiting such gambling on the nation’s communication system at the time (telephone and telegraph). More than 30 years later members of Congress sought to use the Wire Act to stop the rise of casino-style gambling on the Internet. However, the scope of the Wire Act has been disputed among lawmakers, courts, and federal agencies. In 2011 the Office of Legal Counsel in the Department of Justice announced its belief that the Act applied only to sports gambling, dispelling ambiguity and opening the door for states to legalize intrastate non-sport online gambling, such as lottery ticket sales and Internet poker. This paper examines the historical context in which Congress enacted the 1961 Wire Act and the interpretation of the Act over five decades and its implications for present-day regulatory proposals.