Justice Department defends using 'dated' laws in gambling arrests

High Wire Act

The US Department of Justice has admitted that the 1961 Wire Act which it uses to prosecute executives of online gambling companies is "dated". The Department insists, though, that the law is sufficient for the prosecution of gambling executives.

Referring to the laws under which it prosecutes, including the controversial 1961 Act, Justice Department spokeswoman Jacqueline Lesch told OUT-LAW: "They include language about a wire communication facility which we believe includes the internet. They are dated but they cover online gambling."

Two UK businessmen have been arrested in the US in recent weeks in connection with internet gambling. Betonsports chief executive David Carruthers and Sportingbet chairman Peter Dicks were arrested at US airports when they landed. Carruthers's case is being handled by the DoJ, while Dicks may be prosecuted under state laws by the state of Louisiana.

The latest edition of OUT-LAW Radio looks into the confused legal status of online gambling in the US. "It is certainly very confused because they are relying on statutes that date back to the 1960s and you have the added complication of states interpreting them in different ways," said John Hagan, a lawyer at gambling law specialist firm Harris Hagan. "Certainly I'm confused and no doubt the online gambling operators are equally confused and when you're talking about the risk of criminal penalties and being arrested in transit through the states it's not a very satisfactory state of affairs."

"We don't think it is confusing," the Justice Department's Lesch said. "We think it contravenes three statutes, the Wire Act, the Travel Act and the Illegal Gambling Businesses Act. This has long been a concern of the DoJ."

Many legal observers question the use of the 1961 Act to prosecute individuals for using technology and services that were not invented when the Act was written. "They are certainly taking a very strong view of outdated legislation and applying an interpretation for their own purposes," said Hagan.

A new law which would outlaw all internet gambling has passed through the House of Representatives in the US but has not yet passed through the Senate. Most observers believe that it will not be passed. "The chances of it actually passing through the Senate are quite low," said Wayne Brown, an analyst at Altium Securities who follows online gambling firms. "The same bill has in various other forms been tried to pass over the last few years."

The DoJ spokeswoman said that it intended to continue prosecuting under existing laws. "When the evidence allows, we will continue," she said.

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