Several studies have attempted to estimate the size of the online gambling industry. One estimate is from Bear Stearns & Co., which suggests that the industry’s revenues grew to around $2 billion in 2000. Another estimate comes from the National Gambling Impact Study Commission. Both estimates indicate that the industry is growing rapidly. However, the legality of online gambling remains a controversial issue.
The most important factor in determining the legality of online gambling is state law. While the federal government does not prohibit gambling in the United States, state officials have expressed concern that the Internet could be used to illegally bring gambling into their jurisdictions.
The federal government has also been challenged on the constitutional grounds of free speech and the Due Process Clause. Although attacks based on these grounds have enjoyed little success, questions about the scope of legislative power under the Commerce Clause have been raised.
Although state laws have primarily been responsible for gambling, the federal government has been active in regulating gambling, albeit in a limited manner. Section 1956 has been used to prosecute illegal Internet gambling. It creates several distinct crimes. These crimes include: laundering to evade taxes, laundering to conceal an illicit activity, laundering to promote illicit activity, and laundering to disguise the identity of a bettor.
Unlike the states, the federal government has not addressed exemptions for Native American tribes or horseracing industries. While the commercial nature of the gambling industry seems to satisfy Commerce Clause concerns, due process arguments are challenged when financial transactions are conducted within the United States.