Washington Law Review

Article

Through the Wire Act

June 01, 2020 | 95 Wash. L. Rev. 677

Abstract: Legalized sports gambling has become one of the hottest topics in state legislatures ever since the United States Supreme Court’s 2018 decision in Murphy v. National Collegiate Athletic Ass’n1 allowed states to begin legalizing the activity. As states began to offer sports wagering, gambling became front and center in the news and the Trump administration’s Justice Department took the opportunity to rewrite a 2011 Office of Legal Counsel opinion, expanding the scope of the most prominent federal anti-gambling statute. The re-interpretation of the scope of the Wire Act reversed the Department of Justice’s position that the statute only applied to interstate sports wagering, and instead incorporated all forms of interstate wagering. The new interpretation is exceptional because it follows years of failed legislative attempts to re-write the statute. The executive branch used this interpretation to circumvent the legislature and expand the scope of the statute.

The nature of the Wire Act’s targeted activities is one of many questions surrounding a statute that was applied for decades with few questions. The rise of the internet has brought on many more questions regarding the scope of the Wire Act—questions that have become prescient in an era of expanded legal gambling. This Article analyzes the most significant questions regarding the application of the Wire Act and suggests that contrary to the Department of Justice’s 2018 opinion, the statute is intended to apply to a very small group of activities.

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