In re MasterCard Int'l, et al., 132 F. Supp. 2d 468, 472 (E.D. La. 2001). http://www.ca5.uscourts.gov:8081/isysquery/irlc1e/1/doc
This 2001 class action case targeted several banks and credit card companies (such as Mastercard and Visa International) for alleged unlawful interaction with Internet casinos per the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO). However, the defendants were able to successfully move to dismiss the case. During the appeal hearing in 2002, the judge affirmed the previous decision.
In short: “In this lawsuit, Larry Thompson and Lawrence Bradley (“Thompson,” “Bradley,” or collectively “Plaintiffs”) attempt to use the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (“RICO”), 18 U.S.C. §§ 1961-1968, to avoid debts they incurred when they used their credit cards to purchase “chips” with which they gambled at on-line casinos and to recover for injuries they allegedly sustained by reason of the RICO violations of MasterCard International, Visa International, and banks that issue MasterCard and Visa credit cards (collectively “Defendants”). The district court granted the Defendants’ motions to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. We AFFIRM”
The judge wrote the following in his decision, “Because the Wire Act does not prohibit non-sports internet gambling, any debts incurred in connection with such gambling are not illegal.” Trumpeted by poker players unanimously, this case law set a precedent that although sports betting conducted over the Internet may be illegal, casino games are legal according to the Wire Act. The judge’s opinion was indeed influenced by previous attempts to expand the ambiguous Wire Act, as seen by his comments, “[T]he recent legislative history of internet gambling legislation reinforces the Court's determination that internet gambling on a game of chance is not prohibited conduct under 18 U.S.C. § 1084. Recent legislative attempts have sought to amend the Wire Act to encompass ‘contest[s] of chance…’ the ‘Internet Gambling Prohibition Act of 1999’ …sought to amend Title 18 to prohibit the use of the internet to place a bet or wager upon a ‘contest of others, a sporting event, or a game of chance…’”
Sporting Events – Transmission of Bets, Wagers, and Related Information Act,Pub. L. No. 87-216, § 2, 75 Stat. 491, 552-553 (1961) http://uscode.house.gov/download/pls/18C50.txt
Adopted in 1961, the intent of this law was to help law enforcement agencies, especially at the state level, fight organized crime. The Federal Wire Act, in companionship with other federal bookmaking statutes – Travel Act, Interstate Transportation of Wagering Paraphernalia Act, and the Illegal Gambling Business Act – established how organized gambling activities would be deemed illegal and punishable.
Subsection (a) of the Wire Act, a criminal provision, provides:
Whoever being engaged in the business of betting or wagering knowingly uses a wire communication facility for the transmission in interstate or foreign commerce of bets or wagers or information assisting in the placing of bets or wagers on any sporting event or contest, or for the transmission of a wire communication which entitles the recipient to receive money or credit as a result of bets or wagers, or for information assisting in the placing of bets or wagers, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than two years, or both [18 U.S.C. § 1084(a).]
Two provisions standout from the above clause. Namely, “engaged in the business of betting or wagering” and “wire communication facility.” The first quote is most often interpreted to exclude casual bettors. It has been argued, even by congressmen during the debate on this bill, that “[t]his bill only gets after the bookmaker, the gambler who makes it his business to take bets or to lay off bets. . . It does not go after the causal gambler who bets $2 on a race. That type of transaction is not within the purvue of the statute” [United States v. Baborian, 528 F. Supp. 324, 328 (D.R.I. 1981) (quoting 107 Cong.Rec. 16,534 (1961)).]
Regarding the definition of a “wire communication facility,” the following wording applies, “[A]ny and all instrumentalities, personnel, and services (among other things, the receipt, forwarding, or delivery of communications) used or useful in the transmission of writings, signs, pictures, and sounds of all kinds by aid of wire, cable, or other like connection between the points of origin and reception of such transmission.” It remains unclear if the Internet falls in this category. It may be true that certain cables and wires facilitate the Internet, but information also can be transmitted wirelessly between destinations. Wireless transmissions would fall outside the scope of a “wire communication facility.” Since the authoring of this bill preceded the Internet, no consensus has been made on whether it should be applied to online gambling.
One thing is for sure, the Wire Act clearly separates sports betting from nonsports betting, and has been used to define the legality of nonsports betting online. That is to say, the Wire Act fails to prohibit using the Internet to bet on games of chance, such as poker.