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Is Online Gambling Legal?


According to the Wire Act, one is not permitted to make use of a wire transmission for the purpose of placing a bet. The Wire Act clearly states that "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."

While some may argue that the Wire Act pertains to all forms of gambling, others believe that it only refers to sports betting and wagering on sports events. Interpreting the Wire Act to mean that all forms of online gambling are illegal, many banks and financial institutions decided to block online gambling transactions that make use of credit cards. Other online financial services such as paypal.com ceased to process gambling related transactions and most of the major search engines such as yahoo.com and google.com stopped accepting gambling related advertisements.

Although the Department of Justice managed to put a significant dent in the advertising and banking operations of the online gambling industry in the United States, there are currently thousands of online gambling websites operating legally outside the U.S. Furthermore, since most of the online casinos accept numerous offline and online payment methods, one does not require a credit card to play at an online casino.

According the latest online gambling figures, most online casino players are from the United States, and the online gambling industry is continuing to grow at a phenomenal rate from 1.5 billion dollars in 2000 to a projected growth estimate of well over 10 billion dollars for the year 2005. In order for the Department of Justice to make a truly serious dent in the online gambling industry, they would need to convince foreign bodies such as the government of Antigua and Barbuda (a tiny country that processes 25% of online gambling transactions) that online gambling is illegal.

Taking the matter all the way to the World Trade Organisation, the tiny island of Antigua and Barbuda argued that the United States trade policy does not prohibit cross border gambling operations. It also argued that the U.S would be hypocritical to do otherwise since it wants to allow U.S. casinos to operate land-based and Internet-based units overseas.

Meanwhile, the United States argued that regulation was not a viable alternative for prohibition due to five major risks: underage gambling, compulsive gambling, money laundering, possible abuse by organized crime, and the risk of fraud.

On the 7th of April, 2005, the World Trade Organization ruled in favor of Antigua and Barbuda.

"The WTO has now found U.S. prohibitions on Internet gambling improper and discriminatory under global trade rules," Paulsen said. "This WTO ruling means the U.S. will need to regulate, rather than prohibit Internet gaming. It's clear that this will require Internet gaming companies seeking to do business with U.S. consumers to have adequate protections for consumers in place, to deal with such problems as the risk of underage gaming, fraud, and money laundering. The good news is that there are now solutions in the payment system to do just that." Kobus Paulsen, CEO of the UC Group, said on April 7, 2005.

Thus according to the World Trade Organisation, gambling at licensed online casinos and sportsbooks is not illegal. Rather than waging war against the online gambling industry, governmental bodies hostile to online gambling should work towards the regulation and taxation of the online gambling industry, while searching for possible solutions regarding the problems of underage gambling, compulsive gambling, money laundering, possible abuse by organized crime, and the risk of fraud.

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