'Wire Act' pops from the sports betting word cloud this week

Last Week In Sports Betting: No Way, DOJ! Wire Act Memo Dominates Cycle

Sports betting news

If you’re a fan of federal intervention in state-regulated commerce stemming from a legally questionable interpretation of an arcane law … well, this was the week for you!

Amid the usual flurry of sports betting news, a potential bombshell from the US Department of Justice dominated recent headlines. Last week, the DOJ’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) reversed a 2011 opinion regarding the federal Wire Act, which had restricted its scope to sports betting.

You can listen to the guys on TheLines Podcast try to deal with the news — if you’re so inclined. Press play and press on, as we begin our weekly recap in the nation’s capital.

OLC opinion rocks our world

Not in a good way.

By now you likely know the basics. The new interpretation reverts to a previous one from 2002 that more broadly prohibits internet gambling. The possibility of such a reversal was first reported in December by Dustin Gouker at Online Poker Report.

What it all means became the subject of much speculation and debate within the industry. Opinions range from “not much will really change” to “the sky has crashed into the Earth” and everything in between. The truth is that nobody knows for now.

As we work to digest possible ramifications, here’s an early wave of analysis from across our family of sites:

In a follow-up memo, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein urged the DOJ not to enforce the new opinion for 90 days. What exactly is being enforced, however, remains something of a mystery. Expect the office to publish guidelines in the near future.

Retired NJ Sen. Ray Lesniak subsequently told OPR he would seek legal judgment on what he called an “outrageous” opinion. New Jersey online gambling has generated more than $1 billion in lifetime revenue, and NJ sports betting handle already surpassed the same number — all under the now-reversed 2011 interpretation.

Pennsylvania gaming expansion is moving ahead as planned in the meantime, but cautiously. The PA Gaming Control Board is warning its operators to comply by transacting entirely within the Commonwealth.

States have rights too, you know

Leaving the federal government aside for a moment, our recent time has been mostly consumed by the myriad sports betting bills filed across the country. Many of the familiar 2018 faces are back at the plate, joined on the lineup card by a few new names.

New York represents one of the largest untapped markets, and it’s apparently moving toward a spring launch.

In his annual address, Gov. Andrew Cuomo urged policymakers to authorize sports betting at the four upstate casinos already legally allowed. While Cuomo might veto an attempt to legalize online/mobile betting, Assemblyman Gary Pretlow still will try. In the short term, though, NY sports betting would be limited to brick-and-mortar casinos.

Other states on the radar:

  • Massachusetts: Just before the deadline to file, three MA sports betting bills appeared in the statehouse. Actually, make that four. Gov. Charlie Baker is running his own bill, and that seems like the one to watch.
  • Maryland: Borrowing from NY, lawmakers are looking to bypass a voter referendum to get MD sports betting legalized. The initial plan is to run it through the state lottery, possibly as a proof-of-concept for additional expansion.
  • Iowa: There’s no relevant bill on file yet this year, but there is a partnership ready for it. Prairie Meadows teamed up with William Hill to offer Iowa sports betting, if and when legalized.
  • Rhode Island: The smallest state was one of the first to enter the market, but Rhode Island sports betting is restricted to two retail sportsbooks. Looking to change that, Sen. Dominick Ruggerio is sponsoring an online/mobile sports betting bill this year.

Use our handy-dandy 2019 sports betting bill tracker to see the full list of — well, sports betting bills we’re tracking.

Takes and tidbits

It feels like we say it every week, so we won’t bother telling you how much news there’s been lately. Instead, here’s another bulleted list to clean up the loose ends:

Congratulations, you’re all caught up! Follow @LSPReport on Twitter to keep up with the news as it happens, and we’ll be back here with another recap in a few days.

Eric Ramsey
- Eric is a reporter and writer covering regulated US gambling, sports betting, and DFS. He comes from a poker background, formerly on staff at PokerNews and the World Poker Tour.