Online gambling is a form of gambling, including virtual poker, sports betting, and casinos. The use of the Internet for illegal gambling has been a subject of controversy. It has been argued that the Commerce Clause enables the government to regulate this activity, but a constitutional objection has been raised.
A number of federal criminal statutes have been implicated by illegal Internet gambling. For example, the Wire Act and Illegal Gambling Business Act prohibit illegal gambling on sporting events. But if a player uses an interstate facility to participate in unlawful activities, the Travel Act applies, too.
Other statutes involved in the legal landscape are the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) provisions. Sections 1956 and 1953 make laundering a crime for various reasons. They include disguise, laundering for international purposes, and laundering with the intent to promote illicit activity. Although a few attacks have been made based on the First Amendment, they have failed to find a substantial traction.
The UIGEA, or Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act, is another federal criminal law that has been implicated by online gambling. This act prohibits banks, credit card companies, and other financial institutions from accepting financial instruments from individuals who engage in Internet bets. In addition to the UIGEA, the Wire Act, the Lottery Modernization Act, and the Bank Secrecy Act also apply to Internet gaming.
In December 2002, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) published a report titled Internet Gambling: An Overview of Issues. That report summarizes a number of issues surrounding the legality of Internet gambling, including state laws, the legality of remote gambling, and the effects of the Travel Act.
The report is a good resource for those interested in learning more about this topic. However, it is not a comprehensive summary. There are several other related reports available on the topic. These include CRS Report RS21984 and CRS Report RS22749. Both of these reports include text and citations for the statutes mentioned in the CRS Report RS21984 and are more detailed in their analyses of the topics.
Another report cited in the GAO’s Internet Gambling: An Overview of Issues is CRS Report RS21984: “State Legalities of Internet Gambling.” The report includes a number of citations to state gambling laws. Additionally, the report includes a brief description of the relevant statutes and their meanings.
While there have been some constitutional questions regarding the government’s authority to regulate Internet gambling, there have been few concrete successes. Most attacks have focused on the Due Process Clause, rather than the Commerce Clause. Furthermore, the Commerce Clause has been criticized for limiting the scope of the First Amendment to criminal facilitating speech.
Despite the complexities of this area, the online gambling industry is growing. With the advent of smartphones and mobile applications, the ability to place bets and meet with others for recreational or business reasons is becoming possible. Therefore, it is no surprise that the United States is pursuing measures to curb the influx of illegal online gambling.