A Unique First Amendment Challenge

25 June 2004

Michael Rossides is challenging the constitutionality of the U.S. Justice Department's use of the Wire Act to prohibit online wagering. Straying from most arguments on the issue, which tend to focus on definitions and technicalities over where the bet actually takes place, Rossides claims that certain bets are forms of speech and therefore protected by the First Amendment.

To defend his belief, Rossides on Dec. 22, 2003 filed a complaint in the U.S. Disctrict Court of Arizona against Attorney General John Ashcroft, asking for a declaratory judgment recognizing bets are a form of speech protected by the First Amendment. Ashcroft, who has already asked the court once for more time, is scheduled to deliver his response to the complaint on Monday.

Due to the legal climate in the United States, Rossides' site, BetPress.com, does not feature real-money wagering. Instead it offers news about Rossides' case and information about his arguments supporting the classification of wagers as speech. If he wins the case, he will begin taking three different kinds of bets on the Web site. He has acquired two U.S. patents for communication systems using bets, but with the Wire Act firmly in tact, he doesn't dare act on them.

Rossides' case primarily concerns probability bets, which he argues are statements that contain financial incentives to promote truth and honesty. Policy and election markets, for example, tend to be among the most reliable indicators of future events in their respective subject areas. He explained that statements accompanied by bets are often more likely to be true (because the speaker has a risk), so bets therefore are often more credible than ordinary statements.

He has chosen to represent himself in the legal battle and drafted his own complaint.

Many lawyers speculate that a declaratory judgment might be the best way to stop the Justice Department from targeting groups carrying I-gaming advertisements, but the conventional argument is that advertisement is free speech, not that wagering is free speech.

Click here to view Rossides' complaint.

Bradley Vallerius

Articles by Bradley P. Vallerius, JD manages For the Bettor Good, a comprehensive resource for information related to Internet gaming policy in the U.S. federal and state governments. For the Bettor Good provides official government documents, jurisdiction updates, policy analysis, and many other helpful research materials. Bradley has been researching and writing about the business and law of internet gaming since 2003. His work has covered all aspects of the industry, including technology, finance, advertising, taxation, poker, betting exchanges, and laws and regulations around the world.

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