Online gambling is a form of internet entertainment that involves placing bets and playing games with real money. Unlike traditional casinos, online gambling sites have software that enables users to place bets, access their account, and play the games. Moreover, these sites are compatible with smartphones and computers. Generally, the site requires a user to login, enter card information, and make a deposit. Then, he can download the software or use a web browser to access the game.
Since the advent of online gambling, the number of people using the Internet for wagering has increased greatly. In 2002, the Internet Gambling: Overview of Issues, published by the General Accounting Office, estimated that more than eight million Americans were gambling on the Web. However, the figure was lower in 1997, when there were just 15 websites. By 2001, the market had increased to more than 200 sites.
Several federal criminal statutes are implicated in the illegal Internet gambling phenomenon. These include the Wire Act, which is the law governing Internet betting and telecommunications services, the Illegal Gambling Business Act, and the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) provisions.
Under the Wire Act, Internet gambling is illegal when it involves sports and contests. It is also illegal to conduct gambling activities through interstate facilities. While state officials have expressed concern that the Internet may be used to introduce illegal gambling into their jurisdictions, the presence of an interstate element in the process frustrates enforcement policies that are designed to enforce state law.
In 1999, the Internet gambling industry began to grow rapidly. Initially, the Liechtenstein International Lottery was the first venue for general public use. Soon thereafter, online poker rooms were introduced. Using the same basic principle, these sites allow players to play against each other and determine who is the best player by comparing the results of each hand. Similarly, many poker sites offer “instant” games, where all that is needed is a click.
Among the more recent court cases dealing with the legality of Internet gambling are United States v. K23 Group Financial Services, United States v. Grey, and United States v. O’Brien. Each of these cases involved bartenders, managers of establishments with video poker machines, and waitresses.
The United States has sought to prosecute Internet poker operators, as well as individuals who are in violation of the Illegal Gambling Business Act. Among the issues that the government is confronted with in these cases is whether the Commerce Clause provides a sufficient basis for prosecuting these activities.
Because of the commercial nature of these businesses, the Commerce Clause seems to be satisfied. Nonetheless, the free speech objections to gambling are raised by a number of federal criminal statutes. For example, the Wire Act, the Travel Act, and the Racketeer-Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) prohibitions all require criminal penalties.
On the other hand, the UIGEA contains factors that should help to weed out low-level gambling cases. It also includes Congressional findings on the impact of these regulations on interstate commerce.