FBI lies and says that online gambling is illegal
Their scary Internet warning from 2007 simply isn't trueby Michael Bluejay, Last Updated: October 2018
In 2007, the FBI posted a scary warning on its website that said plainly, and wrongly, that gambling online is illegal. In short, they lied, which is pretty easy to prove. But first let's look at exactly what they said:
You can go to Vegas. You can go to Atlantic City. You can go to a racetrack. You can go to those places and gamble legally. But don’t do it online. It’s against the law....That means:
- No placing cyber bets on sporting events or in virtual card games;
- No transferring money electronically for gambling; and
- No wagers in offshore Internet casinos even if you live in the U.S. (source)
Our first piece of evidence that this is wrong is that a U.S. Attorney was forced to admit in a congressional hearing that placing bets online is not actually against the law. And there's a big difference between the FBI's statement and the U.S. Attorney's statement: the U.S. attorney was under oath. The FBI was not.
Even so, the U.S. Attorney, like the FBI, started out by saying that all forms of online gambling were illegal, because that was the party line the federal government was pushing in 2007. But she was immediately forced to reverse herself. Rep. Robert Wexler (D-FL) seemingly mocked her, saying, "The beauty of the Dept. of Justice's position as you enunciate it, which is all forms of Internet gambling are prohibited, means that there's no gray area." Rep. Robert C. Scott (D-VA) followed up:
Rep. Scott: "Isn't it true that in the federal code, it is not illegal to gamble on the Internet, it is illegal to run a gambling operation?"
U.S. Attorney Hanaway:
"It is illegal to engage in the business of taking bets or wagers."
Rep. Scott: "But...there's no prohibition against gambling on the Internet?"
Ah, so gambling online isn't against the law after all! Right after she said it was.
Notice another difference between the FBI's statement and the U.S. Attorney's: Hanaway started out by parroting the FBI's line about all online gambling being illegal, but because she was in a congressional hearing, she was forced to try to defend that position. By contrast, the FBI just slapped some crap up on a web page and got the last word. No one got to ask them any questions.
Attorney I. Nelson Rose weighed in on this too: "The DOJ are waging a war of intimidation and trying to scare everyone…they’re not going after players….they can’t go after players…there is no federal crime of making illegal bets." (source)
Even if you thought that the FBI's position was accurate at the time, despite the U.S. Attorney admitting otherwise, the Department of Justice officially reversed that position in 2011: "U.S. assistant attorney general Virginia Seitz quietly issued a 13-page legal opinion that changed everything. She reinterpreted the federal Wire Act of 1961, which, until that time, had been viewed by U.S. courts—and the DOJ’s own Criminal Division—as prohibiting all forms of online gambling." (source)
There's a final piece of evidence: Until 2011 when the government changed its mind, no American had ever been arrested or charged with gambling online under federal law (much less actually convicted), for one simple reason: so such law existed, then or now. Even in the FBI's scary 2007 warning, they tellingly didn't cite any specific law prohibiting placing bets online. They couldn't, because there wasn't one. Sure, they referred to some laws without actually citing them, but those laws prohibit taking bets on the Internet, not placing them.
You ought to be able to trust that a government web page is accurate and truthful. Unfortunately, that's not always the case.
Disclaimer: While I research my articles carefully and I'm confident that everything I've written here is accurate, ultimately I'm not a lawyer and so I'm required to point out that readers shouldn't consider this article to be legal advice for their particular situations. (Otherwise, I'd be seen as practicing law without a license.)
- Is online gambling legal?
- Is it illegal to run an online gambling website, or advertise for it?
- Our timeline of legal events re:
- Attorney I. Nelson Rose's columns on gambling & the law at Casino City