Virginia ‘very closely’ following legal debate that could threaten interstate lottery games

Virginia ‘very closely’ following legal debate that could threaten interstate lottery games
A new interpretation of a federal law by the U.S. Department of Justice could mean some nationwide games offered by the Virginia Lottery would have to stop, cutting off about 15 percent of the agency’s annual sales. (Source: Virginia Lottery)

A new interpretation of a federal law by the U.S. Department of Justice could mean some nationwide games offered by the Virginia Lottery would have to stop, cutting off about 15 percent of the agency’s annual sales.

The Virginia Lottery is following legal proceedings “very closely” related to the opinion, said spokesperson John Hagerty, but has not filed its own lawsuit against the federal government.

The DOJ issued an opinion in late 2018 about the Wire Act, which was passed in 1961 to curb gambling operations that funded organized crime. Federal officials now say the law is “not uniformly limited to gambling on sporting events or contests,” and prohibitions in it apply to lottery games played among states, like the Mega Millions game.

In 2010, New York and Illinois wanted clarification on whether its lottery agencies could use the internet and out-of-state processors to sell lottery tickets to people living in their states. The Department of Justice at the time said the Wire Act didn’t apply to lottery games.

The new opinion reverses that.

“While the Wire Act is not a model of artful drafting, we conclude that the words of the statute are sufficiently clear and that all but one of its prohibitions sweep beyond sports gambling,” the opinion states.

The recent opinion could make it illegal to operate any lottery game, since much of the infrastructure for lottery games — companies that create the tickets or handle the randomization aspect — are national companies, New Hampshire officials wrote in the complaint.

The Virginia Mercury is a nonpartisan, nonprofit news organization covering Virginia government and policy.