Big Win For Online Poker: DOJ 2018 Wire Act Opinion Ruled Invalid

Advocates for legal interstate online poker in the US received a bit of good news Wednesday.

The New Hampshire Lottery Commission scored a victory in court against the US Department of Justice’s 2018 opinion on the Federal Wire Act. The First Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the New Hampshire Lottery Commission, which acted as the plaintiff in a lawsuit against the DOJ.

At the heart of the matter lied the 2018 reversal of opinion issued by the DOJ, which concluded that the Federal Wire Act outlaws all electronic gambling transactions that cross state lines. The 2018 ruling reversed a previous opinion from the DOJ in 2011, which concluded that the Wire Act only applies to sports betting transactions.

The New Hampshire Lottery filed a lawsuit against the DOJ following the 2018 opinion, on the grounds that the ruling could prevent interstate lottery payouts. The First District Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the DOJ’s 2018 opinion constitutes an invalid implementation of the Wire Act.

The DOJ could appeal Wednesday’s ruling, which would then go to the Supreme Court of the United States. The SCOTUS might not agree to consider the case, however.

What Wednesday’s Ruling Means For US Online Poker

The 2018 DOJ opinion on the Wire Act put a significant roadblock in the way for state-regulated online poker sites. If internet-based gambling transactions can’t legally cross state lines, online poker networks are limited to in-state player pools only.

Four states (Nevada, New Jersey, Delaware, and Pennsylvania) currently operate legal online poker platforms. Across the four states, only one interstate poker network operates.

Players on WSOP Nevada, WSOP New Jersey, and 888poker’s Delaware network can compete against each other. The three states share player liquidity through the Multi-State Internet Gaming Agreement (MSIGA).

The 2018 DOJ opinion on the Wire Act put the future of the MSIGA in question, however. Pennsylvania, which launched online poker in 2019, elected not to pursue any interstate poker agreements.

Pennsylvania gaming regulators alluded to the 2018 interpretation of the Wire Act as a factor in the decision to keep online poker limited to in-state only competition.

Interstate Online Poker Networks Could Expand

Wednesday’s court ruling moves the US online poker industry one step closer to an era of merged player networks across the states. Both Michigan and West Virginia legalized online poker in 2019, with the launch of products in those states pending.

Michigan already passed an interstate poker bill, pointing to a possible entry into the MSIGA at some point. Partypoker’s New Jersey platform rebranded as the partypoker US Network last January, and that name change could provide signs of a future expansion of partypoker’s domestic operations.

Partypoker currently operates in New Jersey, and is expected to launch in Michigan and Pennsylvania at some point. PokerStars operates in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, with a PokerStars Michigan platform coming soon.

About the Author

Geoff Fisk

Geoff Fisk is a San Diego-based writer, specializing in the poker and gambling industries. He’s written for numerous platforms and has traveled the globe as a live poker tournament reporter. Geoff’s interests include the legal online poker industry in the U.S. and abroad.