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Gaming Law Review and Economics: Regulation, Compliance, and Policy





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For a Camelot-era piece of legislation, the Wire Act has a long and unintended shadow. Used haltingly in the 1960s, when the Wire Act failed to deliver the death blow to organized crime, 1970’s Racketeer-Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) became a far better weapon against the mob. Yet starting in the 1990s, the Wire Act enjoyed a second life, when the Justice Department used to it prosecute operators of online betting Web sites that, headquartered in jurisdictions where such businesses were legal, took bets from American citizens. The legislative history of the Wire Act, however, suggests that it was intended for a much more selective application, and that the use of the Act to penalize those who provide cross-border betting services to Americans, while perhaps faithful to the broad letter of the Act, is a departure from its spirit.

Analyzing the social and political ferment in which the Wire Act and its companion laws were brewed shows that the entire package of ostensibly anti-gambling legislation passed by Congress in the summer of 1961 was actually an anti-organized crime measure that only attacked purveyors of gambling because of their important position in the organized crime chain of command. It was not then intended as a sweeping federal effort to curtail public access to gambling. Further, the fact that the same committee in which the attorney general received his initial education in organized crime proposed, in the following year, an expansion of the Act to cover technologies not specified in the original law, suggests that the Wire Act was intended to cover only a limited range of wire facilities—not the broad spectrum of communications technologies, most of which had not yet been invented in 1961, for which later prosecutors dusted it off.


Internet gambling – Law and legislation; Organized crime


Communications Law | Gaming and Casino Operations Management | Internet Law | Legal | Legal History | Legal Studies | Political History | Social History




This is a copy of an article published in the Gaming Law Review and Economics: Regulation, Compliance, and Policy © 2010 [copyright Mary Ann Liebert, Inc.]; Gaming Law Review and Economics: Regulation, Compliance, and Policy is available online at:

Publisher Citation

Schwartz, D. G. (2010). Not undertaking the almost-impossible task: The 1961 Wire Act’s development, initial applications, and ultimate purpose. Gaming Law Review and Economics, 14, 533-540. doi:10.1089/glre.2010.14708

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