The repeated and unequivocal use by the recent 60 Minutes television program of the claim that online gambling, and specifically poker, is illegal in the United States was made despite the producers receiving advice to the contrary from legal expert Professor I. Nelson Rose of Whittier College, it emerged this week.
Prior to the show, 60 Minutes producers contacted the Professor, a highly respected expert on Internet gambling law in the United States. He has revealed that he was asked for his interpretation of whether online poker is legal.
In an interview with Poker News Daily this week, Professor Rose said: “I thought I made it clear to them. You can’t say for sure that online poker is illegal. There are too many variables. The show gave the false impression that it’s a crime to play poker [in the United States] when in fact in probably half of the states, you’re not committing any crime at all.”
The professor reiterates that certain states such as Washington have laws on the books against playing online poker that specifically penalise the player with C-class felony punitive measures the equivalent of those for child molestation and rape. And individual states jealously guard their right to pass gambling legalization pertinent to their residents.
Professor Rose feels that the mistaken idea that online poker and gambling is illegal throughout the United States may be due to the actions of the U.S. Department of Justice, which has steadfastly maintained that this is the case and is consequently in conflict with some states and politicians on the issue, notably on the legislative carve-outs for online horserace betting, state lotteries and fantasy sports.
Department of Justice prosecutions in this arena have carefully targeted only offshore victims, leaving US counterparts alone and thus avoiding a full judicial test of whether online casino and poker gambling (as opposed to online sportsbetting) is illegal. And a Fifth Circuit Court decision some time ago indicated that the Wire Act of 1961 was not intended to cover the future advent of Internet gambling.
“The Justice Department has taken the position that cross-border betting is illegal, which also means that interstate horse racing is illegal," the Professor explained. "You can’t just talk to a prosecutor who is waging a war of intimidation and then quote them [on 60 Minutes].”
Professor Rose noted that the Wire Act of 1961 refers to anyone who “knowingly uses 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."
Also illegal under the Wire Act is “the transmission of a wire communication which entitles the recipient to receive money or credit as a result of bets or wagers, or for information assisting in the placing of bets or wagers.”
Court cases involving the Wire Act have historically focused on sports betting, not on online poker, Professor Rose claims: “The most important cases have held that the Wire Act only applies to sports betting. The cases have involved online casinos and online lotteries, which implies that it does not apply to internet poker.”
In a recent House Financial Services Committee hearing, Chairman Barney Frank stated that the legality of betting on horse racing over the internet, for example, “depended on which department you asked.”
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