The advent of the Internet has created opportunities for a wide variety of internet-based activities, including gambling. In fact, some state officials have expressed concern that the internet may be a channel through which to deliver illegal gambling. It is also possible for operators to set up business in offshore jurisdictions.
There are several federal laws that a player should be aware of, including the Wire Act and the Travel Act. Both of these laws prohibit illegal gambling on sporting events and interstate commerce. However, while the laws may seem innocuous to the uninitiated, they have become the target of a number of attacks based on the First Amendment’s guarantee of free speech.
One of the best known laws is the Wire Act, which is designed to prevent the distribution of information about gambling or wagering. Although it was once thought to apply only to wagering businesses, it is now being applied to internet casinos and sports betting outlets. A Wire Act operator can be fined and imprisoned for its violations.
As for the best way to do it, the law isn’t so clear. Whether the UIGEA or the Travel Act or any other relevant legislation can be relied upon to weed out low-quality online gambling is an open question. On the other hand, the Department of Justice has asserted that all forms of Internet gambling are unlawful under the law. While it is certainly not out of the question that operators will set up shop in offshore jurisdictions, it is less likely that their operations will be subject to prosecution.
In particular, the Department of Justice has investigated whether or not the UIGEA or the Travel Act can be used to enforce their own regulations. Some of the issues raised include the legality of remote gambling, the legality of accepting financial instruments from a non-US account, the best means to identify and report illegal Internet bets, and the legality of allowing foreign entities to operate on United States soil. Despite this, the Department of Justice has yet to issue a formal policy on online gambling.
The aforementioned CRS report is a good start. It not only lists the most important laws for online gambling, but it also gives a brief overview of other laws that are relevant to the industry. Additionally, the report includes an impressive list of citations to more than a dozen state statutes. This, combined with the Congressional findings mentioned above, provides a solid foundation for the debate about Internet gambling.
The best way to find out more about these laws is to visit the websites of the relevant government agencies. The Office of the Attorney General, the Office of the Inspector General, and the Federal Communications Commission all maintain websites that provide information and analysis on these and other related topics. These sites can be found by using the appropriate search terms. Alternatively, if you prefer a more hands-on approach, the offices of the various state attorneys general can be reached by calling them.