As the wait for the possible legalization of sports betting in Massachusetts endures, some Mass residents are likely using modern technology to place what they assume are legal wagers in other states. Sending money to your friend in another state for that friend to place a bet might violate the Wire Act.
The latest interpretation of that law makes it illegal to electronically transmit funds for gambling purposes across state lines. While the chance of being prosecuted is low, the possible consequences are good to know.
What does the Wire Act say about sports betting?
In 1961, the United States enacted the Interstate Wire Act. It sought to make certain types of gambling illegal across the country. It provides for fines and imprisonment for violators.
Last year, the US Justice Department revised its opinion on the act. Prior to that time, it was the Justice Department’s opinion that the act did not apply to online sports betting.
Until Congress repeals the act or a federal court issues a ruling that exempts online sports betting from its tenets, it’s a violation of federal law to use electronic means to send money used for gambling across state lines. That could apply to any and all funds MA residents send to people in New Hampshire, for example, to place wagers on sporting events there.
While wagering on sporting events is legal in NH, anyone who does so using money received electronically from another state could be in violation of federal law. The same could apply if the bettor uses electronic means to return winnings to MA residents.
This could include but may not be limited to popular cash exchanges like PayPal and Venmo. Bank transfers are certainly also in the realm of possibility.
With all that being said, the chance the Justice Department will start devoting resources to tracking these transactions is low. There’s no guarantee that won’t ever change, however.
If you’d rather stay on the safe side, you do have a few options. One of them is putting pressure on Gov. Charlie Baker and state legislators to legalize sports betting in Massachusetts.
Options to avoid violating the Wire Act for MA residents
One possible route is to travel to NH. You don’t have to be a New Hampshire resident to legally place a wager there. The only requirements are that you be at least 18 years of age and physically within the state’s borders.
Once you’ve registered with DraftKings there, you can make a deposit and place bets to your heart’s content with zero worries about breaking any federal or state laws. The same goes for retail sportsbooks in New York state.
Although New York doesn’t offer online wagering, you can place a legal wager at any of the state’s brick-and-mortar sportsbooks. If you’d rather not make either of these trips, however, your best bet is to call and email your state representatives.
If enough MA residents make it clear to those who represent them in Boston that the legalization of sports betting is important to them, legislators are much more likely to make it a priority in the next session. That may lead to MA residents never having to travel out of state to legally place a bet on sports, thus risking violating the Wire Act, ever again.