Federal Law and Online Gambling

Several federal criminal statutes are implicated by illegal Internet gambling, including the Wire Act, the Gambling Devices Transportation Act, the Travel Act, the Interstate Commerce Act, and the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO). The UIGEA, or Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act, was passed in December 2002, and prohibits gambling activities that are illegal in any state, District of Columbia, or Commonwealth of Puerto Rico.

There are several challenges to the enforcement of federal gambling laws on constitutional grounds. These challenges have focused on the First Amendment, the Due Process Clause, and the Commerce Clause. Although these attacks have not produced a clear winner, they have had limited success.

First, the Commerce Clause concerns are limited. While the Commerce Clause protects the free flow of goods and services across state lines, the commercial nature of the gambling business seems to satisfy the Clause’s requirements. Secondly, state officials have expressed concern that Internet gambling can bring illegal gambling into their jurisdictions. In such cases, federal law reinforces state law.

A recent court case in the 5th Circuit involved a Costa Rican casino operation called Tropical Paradise. The operation accepted ads from Discovery Communications. The marshals seized $3.2 million from the company. The company agreed to pay a $4.2 million fine. It also agreed to launch a $3 million public-service campaign.

The UIGEA is the most important criminal statute involved in this case. It prohibits gambling businesses from accepting financial instruments for illegal Internet bets. The law also prohibits financial transaction providers from doing business with such businesses. The RICO provisions also prohibit the unlawful gambling business activities.