CONCORD, N.H. (CN) – In a boon to the growing market of internet gambling, a federal judge barred the U.S. Department of Justice on Monday from expanding the Wire Act to cover online lotteries.
New Hampshire became one of just six states to offer a so-called iLottery with instant Powerball and Mega Millions games in September 2018, but the state’s new revenue stream faced extinction two months later when the DOJ’s Office of Legal Counsel took it upon itself to reinterpret the Wire Act of 1961.
“While the Wire Act is not a model of artful drafting,” the office wrote, “we conclude that the words of the statute are sufficiently clear and that all but one of its prohibitions sweep beyond sports gambling.”
New Hampshire filed suit over the change this past February and, buoyed by support from the New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Michigan state lotteries, prevailed Monday at summary judgment.
U.S. District Judge Paul Barbadoro agreed with the government that the statute at issue is ambiguous, but said the sport-gambling limitation is obvious after taking into account the rules of grammar.
Skewering the argument that Congress might have had a special interest in preventing gambling-related payouts, Barbadoro said the government did “not explain why a rational legislator would have designed a statute that prevents a lawful gambling business from sending or receiving payment for a business activity that the statute does not prohibit.”
“It is bizarre to authorize an activity but prohibit getting paid for doing it,” the ruling states.
New Hampshire Lottery executive director Charlie McIntyre applauded the ruling. “It is clear Judge Barbadoro took a deliberative approach to this decision, thoroughly and carefully reviewing all issues and ultimately making a decision in the best interests of the citizens of New Hampshire,” McIntyre said in a statement.
The state noted that its lottery stood to lose more than $90 million earmarked for education if the OLC’s new Wire Act interpretation had been upheld.
“New Hampshire stood up, took action, and won – all to protect public education in our state,” New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu said in a statement.
Dating back to 1964, New Hampshire’s is the first state lottery program on America’s mainland, following Puerto Rico’s lottery, which began in 1934.
The Justice Department did not respond to an email seeking comment.
Across the country, politicians and legal experts have seen ulterior motives in the Justice Department’s sudden interest in the Camelot-era law that Attorney General Robert Kennedy used to fight the mafia.
“Attorney General Barr is driven by politics and not by the law, and the politics of this is that the Justice Department of going to do the bidding of Sheldon Adelson,” Ray Lesniak, a former New Jersey senator, said in an interview last month.
A noted Trump supporter who owns the Sands Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, Adelson has said he opposes internet gambling on moral grounds. His group, the Coalition to Stop Internet Gambling, filed an amicus brief in the New Hampshire case in support of the OLC.