US Congressman Calls On DOJ To Weigh In On Sports Betting, Revisit Wire Act

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Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) is calling on the US Department of Justice to weigh in on the federal sports betting landscape.

In a suggestive letter addressed to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein on Thursday, he asks the DOJ for a fresh interpretation of the relevant laws, including the Wire Act. See the document here.

Sensenbrenner serves as chairman for the House Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security and Investigations, which fielded public testimony on sports betting in September.

The chair closed that hearing by declaring that Congressional intervention is necessary to harness the emerging industry.

Sensenbrenner wants the DOJ to take another look

Sensenbrenner’s concerns center around the removal of PASPA from the books and a 2011 reinterpretation of the Wire Act. The tone of his exposition makes it clear he is not a fan of either decision, offering telltale phrases of disapproval:

“As you are well aware, until 2011, the federal government consistently interpreted the Wire Act to prohibit all forms of gambling involving interstate wire transmissions, including transmissions over the Internet. Reversing its own long-standing interpretation, the Office of Legal Counsel issued an opinion stating that the Wire Act only bans sports betting and does not apply to online gambling.”

Whether intentional or not, he seems to misunderstand that online sports betting is still sports betting, falling within that reinterpretation. The prohibition on related interstate and international transactions remains.

Still, the letter nudges the current administration’s DOJ to answer three direct questions:

Perhaps he’s looking to ban all forms of online gambling? Sensenbrenner raises his concerns about money laundering, identity theft and terrorism.

Seemingly refusing to accept the current legal landscape, the chairman closes his letter by saying he is “looking forward to working with [the DOJ] to prevent illegal online gambling sites from taking advantage of vulnerable populations.”

Thwarting illegal gambling would be admirable, but it sounds like Sensenbrenner wants to thwart legal online gambling, too.

Did Congress prepare to move on sports betting?

The suggestion of federal intervention reappears near the top of the letter:

“After hearing from a panel of experts representing a broad range of positions related to sports betting, it is clear that Congress has work to do to ensure the public is protected, and any potential for exploitation by criminals is minimized in this post-PASPA era.”

That criminal theme, as you can see, pops up in a couple of places. According to Sensenbrenner, Congress has three viable options:

  1. Re-enact a federal ban on sports betting.
  2. Defer completely to states to regulate the activity.
  3. Adopt uniform federal standards.

The most likely answer, of course, is the second.

While some federal resources could be directed toward curbing the illegal betting that’s taking place in the US, there is little need to trifle with the regulated industry.

Nevada sports betting has been legal for decades, and six more states have begun taking wagers in the past six months. Many of those have been regulating their own gambling industries for many years, too.

Sensenbrenner is leaning toward choices one or three, though. Here’s how he followed up that list:

“The worst option for Congress is to do nothing. However, because of the breadth of issues involved in establishing a federal framework for sports wagering, and the number of interested parties, if will likely take Congress months, if not years, to develop and enact comprehensive legislation.”