Washignton—U.S. Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.),Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H), Mike Lee (R-Utah), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Dan Coats (R-Ind.), and Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) today introduced their bipartisan legislation, Restoration of America's Wire Act, which restores the long-standing interpretation of the Wire Act.
The senators noted on December 23, 2011, the Department of Justice (DOJ) published an opinion that reversed the long-standing interpretation that the Wire Act banned all forms of Internet gambling. DOJ determined the Wire Act only banned online sports betting. This decision opened the door to online gambling in states which previously had not allowed some forms of gaming.
In the aftermath three states are currently offering some type of online gaming, and up to ten additional states are currently considering doing the same.
Courts have split on the legality of DOJ’s ruling — the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals has said the Wire Act only applies to sports betting while district level courts have said the Wire Act applies to all online gambling. The issue has not yet been before the Supreme Court.
“Internet gambling is very troubling—many online gambling sites don’t screen for underage gamblers and do nothing to prevent money laundering, fraud or other criminal acts,” said Senator Feinstein. “Gambling sites are easily accessible and I believe Congress has a responsibility to prevent abuses from occurring. That’s why I support the Restoration of America’s Wire Act, which would prohibit nearly all forms of Internet gambling.”
“In 1999, South Carolina outlawed video poker and removed over 33,000 video poker machines from within its borders,” said Senator Graham, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. “Now, because of this decision by the Obama Administration, virtually any cell phone or computer in South Carolina could become a video poker machine. A major rewrite of a long-standing federal law like this should be made by the people’s elected representatives in Congress and signed into law by the president, not done administratively.”
"With the stroke of a pen, the Justice Department in 2011 reversed decades of interpretation of the Wire Act - going around Congress and defying the plain text of the law. Since then, the Internet has become the ‘Wild West' of gambling, which presents a significant problem for law enforcement when it comes to shutting down illegal activity related to online gaming," said Senator Ayotte, who worked extensively on gambling issues during her time as New Hampshire's Attorney General. "This legislation restores the Wire Act so that there is authority to address crime that occurs with regard to Internet gambling and preserves the ability of traditional retail lottery sales by brick and mortar stores.”
“I am pleased to co-sponsor this bipartisan legislation that restores a law to its true, original interpretation,” said Senator Tillis. “Not only does this bill reverse the Department of Justice’s poor interpretation of the Wire Act¸ it includes a provision that ensures North Carolina’s education lottery will continue to operate, securing future funding for our children.”
“Expanded gambling presents many challenges, especially on the Internet where safeguards to protect people from fraud and addiction are harder to enforce,” said Senator Rubio. “In 2011, the Obama-Holder Justice Department completely bypassed Congress and unilaterally decided to re-interpret the law to open the door to a widespread expansion of online gambling. Congress should restore existing prohibitions on Internet gambling before beginning a public debate about next steps.”
“I join with Senator Graham on this important legislation to ensure the Department of Justice can no longer reinterpret existing law to allow online gambling,” said Senator Coats. “Appropriate regulation should remain in place to protect American families from money laundering, addictive wagering and universally accessible gambling with little screening or accountability.”
The Restoration of America’s Wire Act:
- Returns the Wire Act to where it was in 2011 before the Department of Justice reinterpreted the long-standing statute;
- Traditional, retail store lottery sales will not be affected, and
- Gaming establishments, in states where gaming was legal prior to 2011, will not be affected.