Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wisconsin) is not happy about the current state of regulated sports betting in the United States and is asking the Department of Justice (DOJ) to make an effort at reviving the Wire Act to stop sports betting in its tracks. Sensenbrenner’s arguments, however, are skating on thin legal ice and seem to fundamentally the basic nature of the Wire Act of 1961.

Sensenbrenner made his stand late last week with a letter asking the DOJ three fundamental questions about the Wire Act (which was originally intended to stop interstate gambling, but has been used to ban online gambling and sports betting). The questions were:

  • Do you support the 2011 Office of Legal Counsel’s opinion that reinterpreted the Wire Act to permit online gambling?
  • What guidance, if any, is the Department of Justice providing to states that are entering the sports betting realm?
  • What issues do you foresee in sports betting (both legal and illegal) if Congress does not act in response to the Supreme Court’s PASPA decision?

It should be noted that the Wire Act prohibits interstate gambling, which remains illegal. Neither the 2011 reinterpretation of the Act, nor the Supreme Court’s recent decision to put decisions regarding sports betting in the hands of the states, involve interstate gambling. That is to say, a player in a state where sports betting is illegal is still not able to legally place a bet unless he or she is physically in the state where it is legal.

Sensenbrenner, who is also the chairman of the House Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security and Investigations raised the specters of terrorism, organized crime and money laundering in the letter and also suggested that online gambling takes advantage of vulnerable populations.

What the DOJ’s response will be is anybody’s guess, but they definitely won’t be overturning any Supreme Court decisions and likely have bigger issues to deal with currently than settled law.

In the end, Sensenbrenner’s efforts appear to be little more than a publicity stunt that’s likely been staged for the benefit of anti-gambling interests and isn’t likely to go anywhere.


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