Universities And Sports Betting: New Hampshire Federal Court Sets Aside 2019 DOJ Opinion On The Wire Act

Author:Ms Danielle T. Bruno and Randall P. Hsia
Profession:Schnader Harrison Segal & Lewis LLP
 
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Earlier this year, the Department of Justice ("DOJ") issued a memorandum opinion that effectively reversed the DOJ's 2011 guidance and advised federal prosecutors that the Wire Act's prohibition against interstate gambling applies beyond sports betting to all interstate gambling. This reversal surprised many in the gambling industry, since the Wire Act had long been understood to apply only to sports betting across state lines.

In a turn of events, in June 2019, the United States District Court for the District of New Hampshire set aside the DOJ's revised guidance on the Wire Act. See New Hampshire Lottery Commission v. Barr. The New Hampshire Lottery Commission had challenged the 2019 DOJ opinion, and sought a declaratory judgment that the Wire Act does not extend to state-conducted lottery activities. Several states, including New Jersey and Pennsylvania, filed amicus briefs in support of the New Hampshire Lottery Commission.

In a lengthy memorandum opinion that considered the statutory construction, legislative history, and practicality of the Wire Act, U. S. District Judge Paul J. Barbadoro granted the New Hampshire Lottery Commission's motion for summary judgment and set aside the 2019 DOJ opinion. The Court rejected the government's statutory construction arguments that the Wire Act must apply to all types of interstate gambling. After a careful contextual reading of the Wire Act, the Court determined that the statute applies only to sports betting, overruling the 2019 DOJ opinion, while leaving the DOJ's 2011 guidance in place.

Judge Barbadoro stated, "I have no reason to believe that the Government will fail...

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