The Biden administration could be a boon for online poker, and may likely reverse a decision that put interstate play into murky waters.
In 2018, the Trump administration reversed a 2011 opinion on the Interstate Wire Act of 1961 that said the law only applied to sports betting. The 2011 opinion served as the basis for the formation of an interstate compact between Nevada, New Jersey, and Delaware that helped create larger player pools and made games more attractive to aficionados. The 2018 reversal put the brakes on Pennsylvania’s plans to join the fray, which would have practically doubled the population base for interstate online poker.
DOJ Loses Appeals on Wire Act Interpretation
A New Hampshire federal district court ruled against the 2018 Department of Justice interpretation, and the department appealed. That case dealt specifically with the interstate Powerball lottery, but has implications for all interstate wagering, including online poker. On Wednesday, the US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit ruled against the DOJ, stating that the 2011 interpretation that limited the scope of the Wire Act was the correct one.
“In conclusion, we find that the plaintiffs’ claims are justiciable and that the Wire Act applies only to interstate wire communications related to sporting events or contests,” the ruling states.
Mac VerStandig, an attorney and expert on gaming matters, told CardsChat he doesn’t believe the timing of the appeal court’s ruling, made just before Biden was inaugurated, was a coincidence.
“The court likely wanted to rule before it was moot,” VerStandig said. “I don’t expect the new admin will appeal the ruling to the Supreme Court, but I also don’t think the Supreme Court would take the case anyway.”
He added that it will be interesting to see how the DOJ under Biden handles cases related to the Wire Act.
“Black Friday is almost 10 years in the rearview mirror and we haven’t had a large bust since,” he said. “Multiple online operators are openly flouting the Wire Act and the UIGEA in the US, and veterans of the Obama DOJ might well be returning to their posts in a Biden DOJ.”
Republicans and Democrats Take Opposite Approaches to Online Gaming Regulation
Perhaps ironically, given Republicans’ general call for fewer regulations and Democrats’ call for more, their positions appear to be reversed when it comes to interstate online gambling. Biden told CDC Gaming Reports in 2019 that he “doesn’t support adding unnecessary restrictions to the gaming industry like the Trump Administration has done.”
Many speculate that recently deceased Las Vegas casino magnate and big-time Republican donor Sheldon Adelson, owner of the Sands Corporation, had his thumb on the issue. He had long been an opponent of online poker.
The Michigan-based law firm Dickson Wright, experts in gaming law, recently wrote that the firm expects a Biden administration appointee to drop further appeals.
“This should provide a clear path for expanded use of internet communications for gaming products, such as intrastate online games, interstate online games (other than sports) where conducted by licensed gaming operators in each state, and expanded uses of interstate wide-area progressives by commercial and tribal gaming operators,” the note said.