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Is Talking About Online Gambling Illegal?
According to the U.S. Justice Department, I may have just committed a
felony. Federal prosecutors say helping Americans find online casinos or
sports betting operations could amount to "aiding and abetting" illegal
gambling, a crime punishable by up to two years in prison.
Last June, Deputy Assistant Attorney General John G. Malcolm sent a
letter to media trade groups warning that their members could be
breaking the law by accepting ads for gambling sites. Meanwhile, Raymond
W. Gruender, the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Missouri, has
convened a grand jury in St. Louis that is issuing subpoenas to
companies that do business with the online gambling industry.
This campaign of intimidation already has yielded results. Since
last fall several media companies, including Infinity Broadcasting,
Viacom Outdoor, Discovery Networks, and Clear Channel Communications,
have stopped running ads for online casinos and betting services.
This month Google and Yahoo!, two of the most widely used Web search
engines, also caved. Although Google was vague about its motivation,
Yahoo! said "a lack of clarity in the environment" makes gambling ads
These companies have surrendered their First Amendment rights
without a fight, allowing the government to silence speech it doesn’t
like by floating a legal theory that almost certainly would fail if it
were tested in court. Their capitulation illustrates the chilling effect
of vague laws in the hands of ambitious prosecutors.
"There is concern that gambling advertising may create the
impression among the public that these activities are legal, when in
fact they are not," Justice Department spokesman Michael Kulstad told
Media Daily News. "It’s an ‘aiding and abetting’ kind of thing."
The law is not nearly as clear as Kulstad implies. The Justice
Department maintains that online gambling is banned by the 1961 Wire
Act, which prohibits anyone "engaged in the business of betting or
wagering" from using "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."
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2004 Online Casino News Archive