Amid the ranks of various factions of law enforcement in the United States seeking to stomp out gambling over the Internet, authorities have yet to go after the casual bettor. The Wayne County, Mich. Sheriff’s department has taken a crack at being the first to do so. . . sort of.
During last year’s Super Bowl and Final Four tournament, the department’s Internet Crimes Task Force (ICTF) unit set up a bogus online sportsbook with the intention of luring Michigan residents to make “illegal bets” on the big games.
At the time, Sgt. Greg Gordish, a member of the Internet Crime Bureau, told the media that the purpose of the project was to bring “big-time gamblers” to justice. Gordish said the division was looking for “bookies–anyone who bets big money,” and not “penny-ante bettors.” No busts were reported.
A year later the department, under the direction of Sheriff Robert Ficano, took another crack at it–this time in hopes of snaring Super Bowl XXXV bettors. Ficano admitted, however, that the purpose this time around was to educate and not to press charges.
“At this point in time we are looking at it as more of an educational tool,” Ficano told Interactive Gaming News. “Maybe down the road we will look into using it as a tool for criminal prosecution.”
Ficano said the department sent the deceived would-be gamblers messages letting them know the site was established by law enforcement. “We let them know that making bets online is illegal in Michigan and everywhere else in the United States and that they should be more careful in who they give their credit card information out to,” he said.
While the Michigan “sting” doesn’t pose much of a threat to online gamblers–particularly the majority of which whom don’t reside in the state of Michigan–it does bring to mind a few commonly asked questions:
Is placing a bet over the Internet against a law?
More importantly, if it is against the law, will they come after me?
On a federal level, this is unclear because no gambling-related laws specifically pertain to the Internet. Arizona Sen. Jon Kyl previously including a provision in his Internet Gambling Prohibition Act that made it illegal for the casual bettor to place wagers over the Internet. That provision, however, was removed from the legislation, which ultimately failed anyway. Kyl hasn’t yet introduced the bill since Congress started again this month.
On a state level, a handful of U.S. states have passed Internet Togel gambling prohibition laws. Michigan’s legislature, for example, in January 2000 passed Act No. 235, a cyber crimes act that criminalizes online gambling. Whether the law pertains exclusively to gambling businesses or also to casual bettors is open to interpretation.
The states of Illinois, Louisiana, Nevada and South Dakota have also passed laws that prohibit Internet gambling. The Illinois law could conceivably pertain to the casual bettor; the Nevada and South Dakota laws appear to target gambling operations and not bettors; in Louisiana, the casual better can be fined up to $500. (These laws are subject to interpretation. For a definitive answer to whether placing a bet over the Internet is legal in these states or any other state, you should consult an attorney.)
There have been no cases to date in which a person in the United States has been prosecuted for placing a bet over the Internet.