Illegal Gambling
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    Federal Gambling Defense Attorney in San Diego

    While gambling is legal in certain circumstances, violating the law and engaging in illegal gambling can result in federal or state criminal charges. Understanding these charges, their penalties, and the best ways to defend against them requires a skilled criminal defense attorney. Because, like most crimes, illegal gambling can be charged in either federal or state court (depending on the facts, circumstances, and jurisdiction or location of the alleged crimes), you want to be sure to hire an attorney that is comfortable in the venue where the case is being heard.

    The Law Offices of David Silldorf, APC can help you fight against the government in California state courts or federal courts throughout the country. We’ll help you get the best possible outcome when facing illegal gambling charges and have experience in doing so.

    Legal Gambling vs. Illegal Gambling

    In the United States, gambling is a multi-billion dollar industry. Legally gambling on games of chance, sporting events, and horse races are all heavily regulated by the federal and state governments. Even before the boom of online gambling in the 2000s, people participated in illegal gambling through backroom poker tournaments and bookmakers or “bookies” to circumvent these laws.

    The United States government is primarily concerned with illegal gambling businesses, not individual illegal gamblers. Federal law regulates the companies that are licensed to take bets and facilitate gambling. Under federal law, illegal gambling businesses are those that:

    • Violate state or federal laws
    • Involve five or more people
    • Have operated for over 30 consecutive days
    • Have grossed more than $2,000 in a single day

    Determining whether gambling is legal or illegal has become more complicated in recent years. Like drug laws, there are separate sovereigns with distinct laws that govern gambling, and they often overlap and conflict with one another: federal United States Code v. the individual state’s Penal Code.

    The federal government often defers to state statutes regarding gambling. In 2018, a Supreme Court Ruling in the case Murphy v. National Collegiate Athletic Association declared that it was unconstitutional for the federal government to “command” individual states to prohibit sports betting. This ruling nullified the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA), which prohibited states from sponsoring, operating, advertising, promoting, licensing, or authorizing betting schemes based on competitive sporting events. This opened the doors for each state to determine the legality of sports betting.

    The federal government, however still maintains its own laws on gambling, especially internet gaming. Violating federal law could lead to federal charges being filed against you. These charges carry heavy penalties and involve a different criminal process than a federal prosecution. That is why it is critical to retain the services of a federal criminal defense attorney who has the knowledge and experience to reduce the likelihood of conviction and/or limit the penalties that you may face.

    Federal Gambling Laws

    Illegal gambling can be prosecuted under several different criminal statutes. Each of these laws carries a different punishment. Being charged in federal court also opens an individual or business up to enhancements which can lead to harsher sentencing and steeper fines.

    The Illegal Gambling Business Act

    The Illegal Gambling Business Act of 1955 (18 U.S. Code § 1955) outlaws the owning, operating, supervision, financing, or management of an illegal gambling business anywhere in the United States.  The law carries a penalty of a fine and/or five years in prison.  It also included a provision that allowed any property, including money, used in the violation of this law to be seized by the United States government.

    The Federal Wire Act

    The Wire Act was proposed by Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy in 1961 as part of his crackdown on organized crime.  Under 18 U.S. Code § 1084, it is illegal to use telephones, the internet, or fax to conduct interstate bets or wagers in sporting events or illegal gambling.  This law also makes it unlawful to launder the money made by an illegal gambling business.  Violating this law carries the penalty of a fine and/or two years in prison.  There has been some back and forth in the Supreme Court as to whether this law pertains to sports betting or all gambling, which makes this a somewhat grey area subject to litigation and legal defense.

    Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA)

    Congress passed the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act in 2006.  It targets financial institutions, payment processors, and Internet Service Providers by making it illegal for a business to do any of the following in connection with unlawful internet gambling:
    • Accept or process credit cards
    • Accept electronic transfers or funds
    • Accept checks or similar instruments for payment

    However, the act makes exclusions for certain fantasy sports, skill games, and horse racing. Section 5366 of the UIGEA establishes penalties of five years in prison, a fine, and being barred from involvement in gambling.

    Related Crimes and Enhancements

    Investigating illegal gambling falls under the jurisdiction of the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI). They focus most of their resources on online gambling and sports betting. The FBI may collaborate with local and state law enforcement agencies, the US Marshals, the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3), the Internal Revenue Services (IRS), and state gaming commissions.

    These investigations are often highly detailed and well researched. Because of this, people facing federal illegal gambling charges will often face charges related to operating an illegal business. These can include:


    Under 18 U.S. Code § 371, a Conspiracy is defined as an agreement between two or more people to commit a crime. Since federal illegal gambling businesses involve, by definition, five or more people, Conspiracy charges may automatically apply. Punishments for federal conspiracy charges vary depending on the crime related to the conspiracy. Federal prosecutors often charge conspiracies that require five, ten, or twenty-year mandatory minimum prison sentences.

    Money Laundering

    In order to obscure the source of their income, people involved in illegal gambling businesses often engage in money laundering. Under 18 U.S.C § 1956, If you are convicted of money laundering, you could be ordered to pay twice the value of the money laundered (up to $500,000) and be sentenced to serve a prison sentence based on any underlying felonies related to the money laundering charge, possibly up to 20 years.

    Tax Evasion

    Because many illegal gambling businesses will need to launder their profits or not claim the income from the illegal endeavor, they may not accurately declare their income and face tax evasion charges. Under 26 U.S.C. § 7201, a defendant convicted of tax evasion can serve up to five years in prison and be fined up to $100,000 or $500,000 for a corporation.


    Racketeering crimes relate to operating an illegal business. Depending on a defendant’s criminal history and the other crimes that they may be charged with, the sentence can be enhanced. The maximum punishment for violating the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) is 25 years in federal prison. This is accompanied by a fine of either $250,000 or twice the amount of the proceeds from the illegal enterprise.

    Defending Against A Federal Illegal Gambling Charge

    Operating, financing, managing, or owning an illegal gambling business is a serious crime in the United States. If you are facing illegal gambling charges, it is important that you retain the services of a skilled federal defense attorney before it is too late. Federal investigators and prosecutors have a head start in building a case against you, but an experienced legal team can build a defense that capitalizes on the legal grey areas within federal gaming laws, of which there are many.

    A federal defense attorney can navigate the nuances between legal and illegal gambling, the unique laws pertaining to sports betting, the relationship of interstate statutes, and the vagaries of off-shore online gaming laws to raise reasonable doubt about your guilt. If you are facing a federal investigation or fear that you may be susceptible to legal action, having a legal professional assist you in deciphering federal regulations can be invaluable to protecting your freedom and property.

    With the help of a knowledgeable, experienced, and skilled federal criminal defense attorney, you can turn a seemingly hopeless case into a legitimate defense—and win.

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      David Silldorf, Federal Defense Attorney in San Diego

      When you need a talented San Diego federal defense lawyer, David Silldorf Law is here to help. With over 40 years of combined experience, we have the knowledge needed to handle these complex federal cases. Our team prides themselves on their focus and attention to detail. We assist with a variety of cases and specialize in federal criminal law.

      David Silldorf has been designated by the Federal U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California as an experienced criminal practitioner qualified to handle appointments arising under the Criminal Justice Act. 

      When you choose to work with us, you can be confident that we will personally work up your case, and provide a custom solution for your situation. If you or a loved one is dealing with illegal gambling charges, do not delay in getting yourself legal help. Call to schedule your consultation today.

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