It’s no secret that online gambling has skyrocketed in recent years. In fact, the global gross win of the industry grew by more than a quarter in 2015, reaching $400 billion. As of this writing, nearly a third of the wagers made on the internet are placed at online casinos. This has led to a series of questions regarding how law enforcement agencies can regulate such activities. While federal law seems to firmly establish the legality of gambling activity, state law plays a much larger role.
In the United States, illegal Internet gambling is illegal under both the Wire Act and the Illegal Gambling Business Act. Despite the fact that the latter is often invoked in court cases, its application is less clear. The statute specifically defines “unlawful” Internet gambling as one that takes place exclusively within a single state.
Another federal statute, the Travel Act, prohibits interstate commerce in gambling. However, this law has been challenged on constitutional grounds. Specifically, this act has been criticized for its failure to distinguish between legitimate and unlawful Internet gaming. Even though the UIGEA is intended to regulate commercial activities such as online casino gambling, it does not address the issue of whether or not the government can regulate Internet gaming for profit.
One interesting legal question is whether the UIGEA violates the First Amendment. Some have argued that the statute is a complete overreach. Others have claimed that it does not satisfy the limited First Amendment protection for crime facilitating speech. Yet others believe that it is a well-crafted statute that provides adequate regulatory oversight of the regulated industry.
Several of the more important legal issues related to the UIGEA include whether or not the statute is constitutional, how to enforce it, and how to define the “unlawful” aspect of the statute. For example, the law prohibits financial transaction providers from accepting bets or financial instruments from illegal Internet bettors.
Moreover, the Travel Act and the Wire Act have been paired together in some courts to prevent gambling on sporting events. But this pairing has raised constitutional concerns, and the presence of the interstate element in both laws has been cited as a problem in enforcing the enforcing policies of state law.
Whether the Commerce Clause can trump the UIGEA in certain situations has been debated, but the commercial nature of the gambling business may be enough to fend off any such objections. Indeed, this very commercial nature has given rise to the First Amendment’s free speech argument.
Moreover, a number of Congressional studies have suggested that the UIGEA could affect interstate commerce. Despite this, it is not clear that the law will be effective in the long run. Rather, it may eventually be repealed altogether.
Nonetheless, the UIGEA does include factors that help weed out low-level gambling cases. These include the age verification and location verification required by the statute, as well as the use of appropriate data security standards. Although these factors may not always be sufficient to prove that a particular activity is illegal, they do serve as a reminder that law enforcement needs to do its homework to keep up with the changing face of the gambling industry.