This past week witnessed an important development in the court case that may decide the fate of the online gambling business in the U.S. since it relates to the 1961 Federal Wire Act, as the plaintiffs that behind the lawsuit against the Department of Justice /DOJ/ filed their briefs with the US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit.
New Hampshire Looking To Win
The New Hampshire Lottery Commission /NHLC/ and the two companies that provide software solutions for its operations, NeoPollard Interactive LLC and Pollard Banknote, filed their briefs on February 26, moving the court procedure into the 21 days available for the defendants, US Department of Justice, US Attorney General William Barr, and the United States, to file a reply to their briefs, with the deadline for that between March 18 and 19, 2020.
Trump vs Obama
The Wire Act has never been an issue, until in 2018,the Trump administration reversed a decision of its predecessor from 2011 that stated “interstate transmissions of wire communications that do not relate to a ‘sporting event or contest’ fall outside the reach of the Act, by declaring on November 2, 2018 that the Wire Act’s prohibitions are “not uniformly limited to gambling on sporting events or contests”.
State Operations In Limbo
As per the 2011 decision, some states started legalizing and introducing online lottery operations, casino and poker, and some of them felt threatened from being prosecuted due to the new Wire Act interpretation by the DOJ, and one of them, New Hampshire, filed a lawsuit against DOJ in February 2019, with its software provider partner, NeoPollard following it on the same day by also filing a lawsuit.
The Case So Far
In April 2019, US District Court for District of New Hampshire heard the oral arguments and, almost two months later, in June, ruled for the plaintiffs by setting aside the DOJ Wire Act decision, but in August DOJ and US Attorney General Barr filed a last-minute appeal against the District Court ruling in the First Circuit Court of Appeals, and in December filed the brief.
Both NHLC and NeoPollard briefs went into detail as to why the US District Court decision correctly ruled that the Wire Act pertains solely to sports betting, and even broke down into separate clauses the Wire Act, stipulating that they apply individually as well as a whole statute to sports betting only, and raised their concerns that none of the subsequent notices by the DOJ after its Wire Act reversal decision did anything to allay fears of prosecution.
As stated by the platform provider company, the appeal is against a statutory interpretation that threatens a multi-billion industry in several states, asking for oral arguments to help the court resolve the legal issues in question, but it remains up to the three judges to decide whether they will hear oral arguments before issuing a ruling.