What the New Wire Act Interpretation Means for Pennsylvania Poker?

Pennsylvania has been making impressive progress towards the introduction of a regulated online poker and casino market. However, a recently published opinion by the Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel, may hamper this progress. While it not yet known how exactly this new interpretation of the Wire Act will affect the industry, it is assumed that the already precarious online poker industry may be the hardest hit.

The new opinion is an update of a 2011 DOJ opinion that the Wire Act only applies to sports betting. On January 14th of this year, the newly released opinion revoked that assumption and stated that the Act in fact applies to all forms of online gambling – including online poker.

There are now four states where online poker is regulated – Nevada, Delaware and New Jersey, where online poker sites are already up and running, and Pennsylvania which has not yet launched its industry. Plans are that online gambling sites will be launched later this year.  The question now remains how – or if – Pennsylvania’s gambling authority will move ahead, following the publication of the new opinion.

The Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board recently issued a brief statement regarding the new opinion. The authority’s Communications Director, Douglas Harbach told OPR: “We must thoroughly review and discuss the opinion to gauge any ramifications to gaming activities in Pennsylvania. Meanwhile, as Pennsylvania’s current gaming is all intrastate and legal within the borders of the state, we will continue to regulate the legal forms of gaming as provided for in the Gaming Act.”

Many agree that if Pennsylvania’s fledgling online poker industry has a chance for success it will have to enter into an interstate compact with the other three states. The authority, however, may feel that it would be too much of a risk to do so, considering the new opinion, and if this happens, some operators may believe that investing in an online poker license may not be worth their dollars.

It is still early days to see which direction the industry will take, and it will all depend on how the opinion is interpreted by courts and regulators across the nation.

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