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The Current Law in United States Regarding Online Casinos

The Current Law in United States Regarding Online Casinos



Online gambling is barely twenty years old but estimates cite that online gambling is a $30 Billion dollar industry. Its lack of standard regulation in the United States is a result of the lack of geographic and physical locations for the online casino operations. With the advent of the internet, players from locations around the world were able to sign in to their respective internet accounts and wage bets with regular anonymity and without fear of enforcement. Online casino gambling took a number, if not all governments by surprise as there were no proactive regulations to guard against under age gamblers. Nor were there reliable measures to enable governments to track the cash flow between the players and the online casino’s for revenue purposes. Governments were left with allowing individuals to voluntarily report earnings or losses regarding their gambling activities. More importantly, most governments had very few regulations to even allow online gambling.

The United States was far from one of the first countries to start the process of regulating online gambling. The tiny Caribbean country of Antigua and Barbuda in 1994 enacted a law called the “Free Trade & Processing Act.” This act permitted business entities to open online casinos in a recognized tax haven country. The first regulation of online gambling in the United States was in 1996 when after the creation of the “Kahnawake Gaming Commission”, online gambling action in the Indian nation controlled Mohawk Territory of the tribe of Kahnawake became subject to the commission’s regulation and control.

The number of online casino gambling websites grew exponentially in line with the grow of the internet and the improvement of technology and website applications. In the last half of the 1990s, the number of online casino gambling websites increased from a mere 12 to 15 websites operating in 1996, to more than 200 online casino gambling websites in the next year. It was estimated that revenue from casino gambling in 1998 exceeded well over $800 million dollars. Additional games such as online poker had not even been added yet. Most of the sites simply carried several variations of online slots.

The first attempt to regulate internet gambling came in in 1999 with the introduction of the “Internet Gambling Prohibition Act.” This act attempted to prevent a company from offering an online casino gambling product to a citizen of the United States. When this measure did not pass, online casino gambling expanded even more with the introduction of multi player online casino gambling which enabled players to chat, wage bets, and communicate with other players interactively.

Gambling in the United States

Online casino gambling first hit the trip wire of the United States judicial system in 2002 when the “United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit” issued a decision that the “Federal Wire Act” as a matter of law does not allow the electronic transmission of any data or information related to the betting of sports over telecommunications lines and networks regulated by the federal government. The court did, in the same decision uphold a decision by a lower court that the “Federal Wire Act” does not outlaw games of chance presented by online casino gambling websites. However, administratively, the U.S. Department of Justice maintains a strict position that the Wire Act is a blanket prohibition against all types of gambling.

In 2004 and under pressure by the anti online gambling lobby, the giant tech and internet search facilitator companies Yahoo! and Google stated that each company would remove all online casino gambling advertisements from their search engine sites. This action followed the administrative position by the U. S. Department of Justice on its interpretation of the Federal Wire Act. Neither company desired to be on the wrong side of the U.S. Department of Justice which also had oversight over any issues pertaining to unfair labor practices by either company.

The U.S. Department of Justice took aggressive steps to enforce its interpretation of the Federal Wire Act. During July of 2006, the CEO of the U.K. company, “BetonSports”, David Carruthers, was detained by federal authorities the state of Texas in the United States while he was connecting with his next flight from London to Costa Rica. BetonSports is a company which is publicly traded and listed on the London Stock Exchange. Carruthers and ten associates had been charged in U.S. Federal Court in a sealed indictment with violating federal laws of the United States regarding illegal gambling. Many believe that the Justice Department was over reaching as referenced above, the United States Appeals court had already issued an opinion providing that the Federal Wire Act is not applicable to non sports betting. The Supreme Court of the United States also had refused to hear argument on appeal of the Federal conviction of Jay Cohen, in which the lower courts determined that the Federal Wire Act does not prohibit the ownership of a “sports betting operation“ which provides wagering opportunities to citizens of the United States. The federal indictment against the BetOnSports principals cited violations of at least nine various federal laws and statutes, among the listed was law 18 USC Sec. 1953 which pertains to the illegal operation of a gambling business.

The U.S. Justice Department shadow struck again in the fall of September 2006, when the company Sportingbet announced that its main executive officer, Peter Dicks, was detained by federal authorities in New York City pending a hearing on a Louisiana arrest warrant during his travel in the United States on other non gambling related business. Louisiana expressly prohibits online gambling in any form. The warrant was eventually dismissed by New York.

The afore stated actions by the U.S. Department of Justice and its strict enforcement of the “Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act,” caused a number of online websites to suspend real funds gaming actions and operations specifically for U.S. players. Some relief for onsite game operators came when
in the spring of April 2007, U.S. member of Congress Representative Barney Frank (D-MA) introduced a bill titled “HR 2046, the Internet Gambling Regulation, Consumer Protection, and Enforcement Act.” This bill modified the UIGEA by inserting a specific provision permitting the licensing of certain Internet gambling facilities and websites by the U.S. “Director of the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network” under the U.S. Department of Justice.

In the summer of June 2009, the federal Department of Justice froze the assets and seized more than $34 million from the accounts of more than 27,000 individuals. The case was titled the “Southern District of New York Action Against Online Poker Players.” This was the first instance individual money was frozen and seized from individual accounts of players versus from online the gaming company.

In December of 2009, the “House Financial Services Committee” of the U.S. Congress hosted a hearing on the UIGEA law as well as Representative’s Frank’s proposed “Internet Gambling Regulation, Consumer Protection, and Enforcement Act of 2009 (H.R. 2267)” In July of 2010, the congressional committee successfully passed H.R. 2267 by a majority vote of (41-22-1). The bill was designed to legalize as well as regulate online casino poker as well as other forms of online gaming.

Court induced action taken more recently reveals that this past April 15, 2011, the U.S. Justice department sought a prosecution in the case of “U. S. v. Scheinberg et al.” In this case three online internet poker websites were charged with violating federal laws prohibiting the receipt of any “financial instrument in connection with unlawful Internet gambling.” The department viewed “internet gambling” as involving the placement of a “bet or wager” that is deemed illegal pursuant to the established laws of the specific state where the wager is placed. The federal charges claim that the online website companies used false methods to avoid this law, by labeling online gaming payments as merchandise purchases. Additionally some of the online website companies invested the earned money from gaming action into a local bank in exchange for the bank’s agreement to facilitate the online poker game transactions. In their defense, the companies countered that poker is a skill game as oppose to a game of chance and thus online poker is not illegal internet gambling. The charges did not reference any violation of the Federal Wire Act. Ultimately all three companies settled with the federal government for various sums in the multi millions without any party pleading guilty or having to serve jail time.

Individual States Attempts to Regulate Online Gambling

Currently there are ten states within the United States which have or are considering legislation to permit online casino gambling in 2015. In addition their is a congressional action proposed to regulate online casino poker. Many pundits expect significant opposition to any national law and do not expect a law to pass Congress in any form.

To this point, only 3 states currently permit online casino gambling. These states are Delaware, Nevada and New Jersey. New or ongoing proposals for some form of online casino gambling could be reviewed by Iowa, California, Colorado, New Jersey, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Illinois, Louisiana, Mississippi and Pennsylvania. Each year more and more states look at proposed legislation as reports of potential revenues continue to spur interest in state legislators trying to capture a new potential tax base.

Indian tribes in California are in negotiations to determine how to regulate online poker. Mississippi, tried but failed to pass a law permitting online gambling last year and legislators will look at a new approach to legislation this year. The state of Nevada limits its online gaming to poker but is reviewing opening online gaming activities to additional casino styled games.

The state of Delaware which also is another state which has authorized online gambling may consider cross state agreements with states such as New Jersey or Pennsylvania to increase the pool of eligible bettors.
A legislative proposal is under review with New Jersey law makers and would authorize the creation of a new category of licensing which authorizes foreign and interstate wagers to be placed with Atlantic City casinos.

New Jersey has had considerable success with its online gambling websites. in a three month period, fifteen New Jersey online gambling websites earned close to $8.4 million dollars. The state expects their revenue numbers to increase throughout the year of full play.

Some expect large casino owners to back a new national legislative effort to ban all forms of internet gambling which compete with their brick and motor casino operations.

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