Judge: Federal wagering law only applies to sports gambling

CONCORD, N.H. — A federal judge ruled Monday that a law prohibiting interstate wagering applies only to sports gambling, setting aside a Justice Department opinion that some states feared would make online lottery activities illegal and put the programs they fund at risk.

Judge Paul Barbadoro's ruling comes in response to a suit filed by the New Hampshire Lottery Commission, which said a Justice Department opinion issued last year subjects its employees to prosecution, creates uncertainty about whether it should cease operations and could cost the state more than $90 million a year.

The case revolves around the Wire Act, a 1961 law meant to target the mob that prohibits interstate wagering. Decades later and with the internet ruling everyone's lives, New York and Illinois asked the Obama administration whether selling lottery tickets online violated the law.

The department in 2011 concluded that online gambling within states that does not involve sporting events would not break the law. But the agency changed its mind in November, interpreting the act as applying to any form of gambling that crosses state lines, not just sports betting. Some feared that, if strictly interpreted, that opinion would outlaw lottery tickets sold online and prohibit all lottery-related activities that use the internet.

That raised concerns about the viability of online poker and other gambling across states, as well as state lotteries. Money from lotteries typically funds a variety of programs, from education to senior citizen services.

On Monday, Barbadoro said New Hampshire had the standing to sue and that the Wire Act was limited to sports gambling.

"Today's ruling is a historic victory for the State of New Hampshire and we are proud to have led this effort," said Gov. Chris Sununu. "New Hampshire stood up, took action, and won — all to protect public education in our state."

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