HomePublicationsNewsletter ArchiveNewslettersVolume 20Issue 11Bills Introduced in Congress to Amend the Federal Wire Act

On March 26, 2014, identical bills entitled the “Restoration of America’s Wire Act” were introduced in both the U.S. House of Representative and the Senate.  These measures seek to amend provisions of the federal criminal code known as the “Wire Act.”  Enacted in 1961, the Wire Act currently makes it a federal crime to “knowingly [use] a wire communication facility for the transmission, in interstate or foreign commerce, of bets or wagers or information assisting in the placing of bets or wagers on any sporting event or contest…”  18 U.S.C. 1804.  In September, 2011, and in a shift from prior policy, the U.S. Justice Department issued a legal opinion concluding that the “…interstate transmissions of wire communications that do not relate to a 'sporting event or contest' fall outside the reach of the Wire Act.”

The current measures, House Resolution (HR) 4301 (introduced by Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT)) and Senate Bill 2159 (introduced by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC)), state that their aim is to “…restore long-standing United States policy that the Wire Act prohibits all forms of Internet gambling…”  These bills would amend 18 U.S.C. 1804 to remove the reference to “sporting event or contest” and instead make the statute applicable to “any bet or wager.”  The bills also explicitly provide that their provisions shall not: (i) preempt any state law prohibiting gambling, or (ii) alter, limit, or extend the relationship between the Interstate Horseracing Act of 1978 and other federal laws currently in effect, the ability of a state licensed lottery retailer to make in-person, computer-generated retail lottery sales, or the relationship between federal laws and state charitable gaming laws.     

The practical effect of these amendments would likely serve to ban all forms of internet gambling in the U.S. that would occur across state lines.

These bills are supported by billionaire Sheldon Adelson, the chief executive officer of the Las Vegas Sands Corporation.  Mr. Adelson has been an outspoken critic of internet gambling, arguing that it is bad for casinos and for gamblers.

H.R.4301has been referred to the House Committee on the Judiciary, while S.2159has been referred to the Senate Committee on the Judiciary. 

 

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