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Ruling by Justice Dept. Opens a Door on Online Gambling

Staff Report

WASHINGTON — The Justice Department has reversed its long-held opposition to many forms of Internet gambling, removing a big legal obstacle for states that want to sanction online gambling to help fix their budget deficits.

The legal opinion, issued by the department’s office of legal counsel in September but made public on Friday, came in response to requests by New York and Illinois to clarify whether the Wire Act of 1961, which prohibits wagering over telecommunications systems that cross state or national borders, prevented those states from using the Internet to sell lottery tickets to adults within their own borders.

Although the opinion dealt specifically with lottery tickets, it opened the door for states to allow Internet poker and other forms of online betting that do not involve sports. Many states are interested in online gambling as a way to raise tax revenue.

New York has offered an online subscription service since 2005 that allows state residents to enter a string of Lotto or Mega Millions drawings.

The director of the New York Lottery, Gordon Medenica, said Saturday that the lottery had built a broader online gaming system for New York, but that the contractor that put the system together was wary about moving forward because it feared it could get into legal trouble.

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"The gambling bill would generate nearly a billion dollars in tax revenue annually and create more than 12,000 jobs. That seems worthwhile."

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"The gambling issue dominated the entire session. However, it failed in the House of Representatives."