Appeals Court Grants Justice Department Delay in Wire Act Appeal 

November 18, 2019
Appeals Court Grants Justice Department Delay in Wire Act Appeal 

Online poker players are used to waiting and more is needed to clear up the issue of shared liquidity. The First Circuit Court of Appeals granted the Department of Justice an extension this week in its Wire Act appeal.

The move grants the federal government until Dec. 20 to file appellant’s briefs, according to The legal actions come after the DOJ reinterpreted an opinion on the act in January.

The new opinion reverses the idea that the Wire Act applies only to sports betting. The DOJ now believes it applies to all forms of gambling.

The New Hampshire lottery commission sued to block that opinion. The commission won the first round in June, but the DOJ has appealed.

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How the Wire Act got to court

After Black Friday, online poker players welcomed the Obama DOJ opinion that the Wire Act only applied to sports. That left some wiggle room for online poker on a state-by-state basis and also for shared liquidity pools.

States with legalized online poker could work out agreements among themselves. New Jersey, Delaware, and Nevada did just that.

However, the government’s move could have curtailed all forms of interstate gambling. In New Hampshire that could include online lottery sales.

According to Online Poker Report, the Justice Department asked for a dismissal in the case. The DOJ argued it hadn’t decided if state lotteries are subject to enforcement under the opinion.

The lottery commission argued a lack of clarity puts its operation in limbo. The Justice Department could decide to criminalize its sales anytime at a later date.

The June court ruling in the New Hampshire lottery’s favor delayed the DOJ’s enforcement dates. In the poker world, that meant New Jersey players could compete in WSOP online bracelet events.

Many fared well and more online events may even be added for 2020. WSOP organizers have been pleased with the growth of online events.

With the appeals delay, the issue could be dragged further into 2020.

Wire Act legal fight hampers online poker in Pennsylvania

The uncertainty created by this legal environment makes the expansion of online poker tricky.

PokerStars launched in Pennsylvania on Nov. 4, becoming the first online operator in the state. At this time the state will remain a closed market despite the company also operating in New Jersey.

Shared liquidity would mean even larger numbers of players and bigger tournament payouts. A reversal of the original Wire Act opinion could mean state player pools are on their own.

That would be an uphill climb for many and may deter other states from opening up to online poker. As of now, the feds aren’t enforcing the act beyond sports betting until 2020.

Pennsylvania officials have indicated the market may open up after the Wire Act issue is clarified. Another decision in the NH lottery’s favor would certainly give American online poker even more momentum.

Where is American online poker market headed?

The news in Pennsylvania has been all positive of late when it comes to poker. and partypoker have also applied to enter the market.

Those operators launching would offer even more options for players. A favorable ruling again on the Wire Act actually offers some positivity with a chance at real expansion.

West Virginia also legalized online poker earlier this year and could be part of an expanded player pool. That will probably be necessary in the state.

 A lack of shared liquidity could make online poker almost a non-starter. As a rural state of only 1.8 million, operators may view the market as much too small to launch.

The state is expected to see some type of gaming launch in 2020. However, without legalized shared liquidity pools, that might not include poker.

Michigan may also be closing in on legalizing online gaming, including poker. That could mean six states in the mix, a doubling of states with online poker in only a couple years.

That’s a big improvement and some movement in the right direction for poker fans. Clearing up the Wire Act issue may bring even more good news.

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