The World Series of Poker will mark its half-century this summer. Once more, WSOP.com will be running a series of online gold bracelets events every Sunday, this year from June 2 to July 14, offering players the chance to win some coveted World Series bling from the comfort of their own homes.
But since the US Department of Justice issued an opinion in January that appears to prohibit interstate online poker, the big question is, will New Jerseyans — or Delawareans for that matter — be allowed to play?
The short answer is, no one knows — not even Caesars subsidiary WSOP.com.
In a press release issued this week to publicize its nine online bracelet events over the summer, the company acknowledged that “eligibility for New Jersey players in WSOP.com online gold bracelet events has yet to be determined.”
Online Poker at Threat
Last year’s event saw the first online bracelet tournaments that involved interstate player liquidity-sharing, made possible by the Multi-State Internet Gaming Agreement between Nevada, New Jersey, and Delaware.
According to OnlinePokerReport, the games were popular, with at least 565 players joining from outside Nevada. But the DOJ opinion is a very real, existential threat to liquidity sharing.
It states the federal Wire Act prohibits all forms of online gambling across state lines — not just sports wagering — reversing an Obama-era opinion that paved the way for Nevada, New Jersey, and Delaware — and this year Pennsylvania — to launch online poker and casino markets.
The DOJ gave operators 90 days to comply, but until that period has elapsed, no one will really know what “compliance” means, or whether the new opinion will be enforced at all.
At its strictest interpretation, it could affect all online gaming, including lotteries. Despite the effectiveness of geolocation procedures, mobile gaming relies on technology that can bounce off towers in multiple states between an operator’s sever and a player’s device.
At its loosest interpretation, the opinion would still appear to prohibit interstate online poker. While online casino and sports betting are going from strength to strength in New Jersey, poker is stagnant because it relies on large player pools to thrive.
Liquidity affords choice — a wider choice of games and stakes, and greater fields for tournaments, which creates bigger prize pools.
The DOJ is facing legal challenges in New Hampshire, where a legal precedent exists that contradicts the new opinion. The New Hampshire Lottery and its technical supplier have both filed lawsuits arguing the new opinion is neither faithful to the text, structure, purpose, or legislative history of the Wire Act — a 1961 law designed to stymie the revenues of organized crime.
This week a third litigant emerged, IDEA Growth, a trade group that advocates regulated online gaming. The State of New Jersey has also threatened legal action.
Meanwhile, most online gaming operators are keeping their heads down and carrying on as usual.
“It’s an opinion, it’s not the law,” an industry insider told The Nevada Independent. “The gaming industry is laying low. We don’t want to ask a question that we don’t want to know the answer to.”