In a significant win for the New Hampshire Lottery Commission (NHLC), which could have sweeping implications for the regulated online poker industry in the United States, a judge has ruled that the recent Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) opinion that the 1961 Wire Act applies to forms of gambling beyond sports betting is wrong.
In arguments that focused heavily on syntactic and grammatical interpretations of an ambiguously worded 50-year-old law, the judge concluded that there was no clear, unequivocal interpretation.
Instead, as the OLC itself concluded in 2011, the bigger picture should be considered. And when considering “significant contextual evidence,” it is clear to the judge that the Wire Act is limited to sports betting.
I have no reason to believe that the Government will fail to respect my ruling that the Wire Act is limited to sports gambling.However, the judge declined to give his judgment a broader scope, meaning that the decision pertains only to the NHLC and its operations in the United States.
“Words have multiple meanings even when read in context, and legislators fail to achieve syntactic precision. Even proper syntax can produce ambiguous text when it leaves a statute as a whole internally incoherent,” stated Paul Barbadoro, United States District Judge, in his 63-page judgment dated June 3 and first shared by Online Poker Report.
“In such cases, a court cannot blind itself to permissible sources of meaning. It must instead undertake a nuanced and comprehensive review of all relevant evidence in an attempt to give the statute as a whole a fair reading,” he stated.
This led to a review of the Wire Act as a whole, with an eye on assuming coherency of the original drafters of the law and looking at other legislative history.
“I hereby declare that [the Wire Act] applies only to transmissions related to bets or wagers on a sporting event or contest. The 2018 OLC Opinion is set aside,” he ultimately ruled.