In reinterpreting the Wire Act of 1961, the department ruled the law's banning of wagers by way of telecommunications that cross state lines or international borders refers only to bets on a "sporting event or contest" and not to lottery tickets sold online, Mashable reported Tuesday.
While the Justice Department's decision does not explicitly mention online poker, experts say it will likely pave the way for it to become legal.
Previously the department has aggressively enforced the prohibition on online poker using the Wire Act, closing down three foreign-based online poker firms -- Absolute Poker, Poker Stars and Full Tilt Poker -- saying they had violated the act by serving U.S. residents.
"The U.S. Department of Justice has given the online gaming community a big, big present," Professor I. Nelson Rose of Whittier College of Law in California wrote on his blog, Gambling and the Law.
"If the Wire Act is limited to bets on sports events and races, what other federal anti-gambling statutes are left?
"There are prohibitions on interstate lotteries, but Powerball and the other multistate lotteries show how easily these can be gotten around, even before Congress passed an express exemption for state lotteries. And poker is not a lottery under federal law."
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