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Denning - DOJ Opinion

Denning - DOJ Opinion

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Published by: eyeGaming on Jan 04, 2012
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10/20/2013

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OntheDOJ,PokerHysteria,andtheEnduringImportanceofthewell-placedComma
byAlfredDenning
03January2012
“Peoplecanforeseethefutureonlywhenitcoincideswiththeirownwishes,andthemostgrosslyobviousfactscanbe
 
ignoredwhentheyareunwelcome.”-
GeorgeOrwell 
Irememberwellthesearofthestrapacrosstheknucklesofmyscarlethandintheheadmaster’soffice-awell-deservedcorrection,Ireadilyadmit,butonethatImaintaintothisdaywasadministeredwithunseemlygusto.SomebelligerenceonmyparttomyEnglishteacherimpelledmylongwalktotheheadmaster,inturnsparkedbyadisagreementovermycopioususeofmultipleexclamationpointsinmywriting,apracticeIinsistedwasperfectlycorrectwithallofthegraceandtactofacricketbattotheface.AndsoItakepunctuationratherseriously.Overtheholidays,thepokeradvocates,pundits,associationsandonlinegaminglawyershaveworkedthemselvesintoafroth.Thecause?TheUSDepartmentofJusticereleasedanOpinion(datedSeptember20,2011,butwhichbecamepublicinlateDecember)regardingitsinterpretationofthescopeofthe
WireAct 
.Uponitspublicrelease,theOpinionwaspromptlydeclaredbyonlinegamingobserversandlawyersa“shocker”,“game-changing”,a“blockbuster”,“historic”.Stockpricesofonlinegamingcompaniesandsupplierstwitched.ThePokerPlayersAllianceejaculatedapressreleasewithinminutes.Therewasmuchgnashingofteethandrendingofgarments.AnduponwhatdidthisOpinionultimatelyturn?Acomma.
THEOPINION–WHATDOESITACTUALLYSAY
Letusfirstunderstandexactlywhathappened.Itallstartedsosimply.NewYorkandIllinoishavedevelopedproposalstousetheInternettoallowin-stateadultstopurchaselotteryticketsonline.Asimpleenoughidea.However,theywere
 
concerned.TheactualInternettrafficwastorouteoutsideoftheirStatelinesandtheyalsowantedtousetransactionprocessorsthatweren’tnecessarilyinNYorIL.Theywerefearfulthatthisinterstateelementwouldtriggerthefederal
WireAct 
,apieceoflegislationimplementedin1961duringRobertKennedy’santi-Mobcrusade.Yousee,thoughthelanguageofthelawseemedtolimititonitsfacetobetsorwagerson“sportingeventsorcontests”theDOJhadconsistentlytakenthestancethatthe
Wire Act 
appliestoanyinter-statetransmissionofbetsorwagering(orinformationrelatingtobetsorwagering).So,NYandILwereconcernedthattheoutofstatetransmissionofthisinformationtotheprocessorswouldrunafoulofthisfederallawandtheyaskedtheDOJtoprovideanOpinionbeforetheywouldproceed.Theentirematterturnsonasinglesection,which,forthesakeof“clarity”,I’llreproducehere:
“Whoeverbeingengagedinthebusinessofbettingorwageringknowinglyusesawirecommunicationfacilityforthetransmissionininterstateorforeigncommerceofbetsorwagersorinformationassistingintheplacingofbetsorwagersonanysportingeventorcontest,orforthetransmissionofawirecommunicationwhichentitlestherecipienttoreceivemoneyorcreditasaresultofbetsorwagers,orforinformationassistingintheplacingofbetsorwagers,shallbefinedunderthistitleorimprisonednotmorethantwoyears,orboth.”
Clearly,thedrafterofthisclausedidn’tattendmyEnglishclass,or,ifhedid,hemusttypewithonehandtoday.Therearetwoprincipalsectionshere.I’veinsertednumbersandboldedtextforclarity,buttheclausebreaksdownthusly:
“Whoeverbeingengagedinthebusinessofbettingorwageringknowinglyusesawirecommunicationfacilityfor:(1)
 
thetransmissionin
interstateorforeigncommerce
ofbetsorwagersorinformationassistingintheplacingofbetsorwagers
onanysportingeventorcontest 
 ,or(2)
 
 forthetransmissionofawirecommunicationwhichentitlestherecipienttoreceivemoneyorcreditasaresultofbetsorwagers,orforinformationassistingintheplacingofbetsorwagers,shallbefinedunderthistitleorimprisonednotmorethantwoyears,orboth.”
 
So,theOpiniontheDOJissuedspecificallyaddressedthefollowingquestion:“Doesthephrase
‘…onanysportingeventorcontest…’
modifythefirsthalfofpart(1)and/orpart(2)?”Putanotherway,
areallthereferencesto“betsorwagers”inthisentiresectionintendedtomean“betsorwagersonanysportingeventorcontest”oraretheretwoclassesof“betsandwagers”–oneclasslimitedtobetsorwagerson sportingeventsorcontestsandonemoregeneralclassthatappliestoallbetsorwagers? 
MYKINGDOMFORACOMMA
Theactualcaselawonthisquestionwasalwayslimited,butitwassplit.In
ReMastercard 
in2002(aninternetcasino-onlycase–i.e.nosportsbetting)thecourt(upheldonappeal)concludedthatthe
WireAct 
appliedonlytosportsbettingandcontests.But,thedistrictcourtinLombardo(the“BetUS”case–obviouslyimplicatingsportsbetting)inUtahin2007reachedtheoppositeconclusion;aninstanceof“hardcasesmakebadlaw”ifevertherewasone.EventheCongressionalResearchService(thebodyresponsibleforputtingtogetherlegalanalysesandsummariesforCongress)acknowledgedthatthelanguagepermittedeitherinterpretationin2006.I’llcuttotheproverbialchase,shallI?TheDOJOpinionconcludedthat“
bothprovisionsarelimitedtobetsorwagersonorwageringcommunicationsrelatedtosportingeventsorcontests
.”Referringtolegal“principlesofconstruction”usedtointerpretstatutes,thecontextandhistoryofthepassageofthelaw,andthefactthatotherlawswerebeingpassedcontemporaneouslythatdealtexplicitlywithotherformsofgambling,theDOJpubliclychangeditsstanceonthebreadthoftheAct.ItshouldbenotedthateventheDOJpinedforpunctuation:
“Thetextitselfcanbereadeitherway—itdoesnot,forexample,containacommaafterthefirstreferenceto“betsorwagers,”whichwouldhaverenderedourproposedreadingsignificantlyless plausible.Bythesametoken,thetextdoesnotcontaincommasaftereachreferenceto“betsorwagers,”whichwouldhaverenderedour proposedreadingthatmuchmorecertain.”
Asaresult,theDOJconcludedthat,sincethelotteryinformationpassingbeyondstateborderswasnotinreferencetobetsorwagersrelatingto“sportingeventsorcontests”,the
WireAct 
didnotapply.

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