The National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS) applauded the U.S. Department of Justice’s (DOJ) reaffirmation of a long-standing judicial understanding that all online gaming, including lotteries, are illegal under the Wire Act.
DOJ’s January 14 release of its Opinion on online gaming overturns the 2011 Opinion that legalized online lottery sales. NACS has worked on overturning that Opinion since it was released seven years ago.
The Wire Act was first signed into law in 1961 as part of an effort by the Justice Department, led by then Attorney General Robert Kennedy, to cut off the funding sources for organized crime in the United States. The law was enacted to prevent the interstate phone and wire system from being used to transmit wagers and information used by illicit gambling operations. In more modern times the law has been equally applied to the internet.
In December 2011, the Office of Legal Council (OLC) within the Department of Justice issued an Opinion contending that, due to the location of one comma in one sentence of the Wire Act, it only applied to sports betting. OLC produced that Opinion in response to requests from some State lottery operators and temporarily reversed over five decades of legal interpretation of the Wire Act’s reach.
Responding to inquiries from Members of Congress seeking further clarification on the Wire Act, DOJ finally reversed that 2011 decision and reaffirmed the precedent that the Wire Act explicitly prohibits all forms of gambling from taking place over the wire systems—such as phones and now the internet.
“NACS applauds the Department of Justice for reaffirming the rule of law in this area. The Wire Act has always clearly prohibited online gaming, including lottery games. Today’s decision simply corrects an error made in 2011 that should never have happened. We have always maintained that lotteries and their customers are best served by playing at brick and mortar retail locations where well-trained employees can enforce requirements, including age-verification laws,” said NACS Senior Vice President of Government Relations Lyle Beckwith.