18 U.S.C. § 1301 - Importing or Transporting Lottery Tickets
While state lotteries are common nowadays, and while many states also participate in national lotteries like Powerball, lotteries and similar games of chance and prizes are still highly regulated in the United States.
And while states have their laws regarding unauthorized or illegal lottery tickets, when unauthorized tickets cross state or international boundaries, it becomes a federal matter.
Under Title 18 U.S.C. 1301, you're committing a federal crime if you import lottery tickets into the U.S. or across state lines that the federal or state government hasn't authorized. If convicted, you could face up to 2 years in prison.
These restrictions cover various issues, from broadcasting lottery information to mailing lottery tickets to participation in lotteries by financial institutions. Sometimes, violating the rules and regulations that govern lotteries can result in federal criminal charges.
18 U.S.C. 1301 says, “Whoever brings into the United States for the purpose of disposing of the same, or knowingly deposits with any express company, or carries in interstate or foreign commerce any paper, certificate, or instrument to represent a ticket, chance, share, or interest in or dependent upon the event of a lottery, gift enterprise, or similar scheme, offering prizes dependent in whole or in part upon lot or chance, or any advertisement of, or list of the prizes drawn or awarded using, any such lottery, gift enterprise…shall be fined and imprisoned for up to two years, or both.”
You must understand your rights and take proactive steps to challenge these serious accusations if you are under a criminal investigation related to lotteries. Our federal criminal defense lawyers will review this statute in more detail below.
What the Law Says
18 U.S.C. 1301 makes it a federal crime to do any of the following:
- To bring unauthorized tickets for a lottery or similar scheme into the United States for the purpose of distributing them;
- To use a "common carrier" (e.g., UPS, FedEx) to send unauthorized lottery tickets in interstate or foreign commerce, such as across state or national boundaries)
- To purchase lottery tickets from one state for someone out-of-state who is not authorized to participate in that lottery, except by agreement between those two states;
- To pay for lottery tickets via interstate/foreign commerce that your state does not authorize you to participate in;
- To import or use a common carrier to take or receive unauthorized advertisements for a lottery.
It should be noted that for purposes of the law, a lottery ticket may be "any paper, certificate, or instrument purporting to be or to represent a ticket, chance, share, or interest in or dependent upon the event of a lottery, gift enterprise, or similar scheme."
Importing or transporting unauthorized lottery tickets is a Class E felony under federal law. If you're convicted, you could face up to 2 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000.
What Are Some Examples?
EXAMPLE 1: The lottery jackpot in David's home state has increased to a sizeable amount. David buys a batch of lottery tickets for his friend, Bill, who lives in another state and isn't authorized to play that lottery.
Bill sends David a check via FedEx to pay for the tickets. Both Bill and David may be charged under 18 U.S.C. 1301 because although the lottery itself is state-sanctioned, Bill is not authorized by his state to play it.
EXAMPLE 2: Hearing that people are "winning big" lately in one of Canada's lottery games, John drives from his home state of Utah across the border, buys a few hundred tickets, stashes them into his luggage, and goes home to sell them to his friends.
John can be charged for illegally importing lottery tickets because Utah's state constitution bans all forms of gambling.
EXAMPLE 3: Gina, who lives in the U.S., logs onto an online platform to buy tickets for EuroJackpot, a trans-European lottery similar to Powerball and Mega Millions in the U.S. Gina is not guilty under 18 U.S.C. 1301 because EuroJackpot allows non-Europeans to purchase tickets online from legitimate platforms, and there is no law in the U.S. prohibiting participating in online lotteries.
What Are Related Federal Crimes?
Under 18 U.S. Code Chapter 61, several federal statutes cover criminal conduct related to lotteries, including the following:
- Mailing lottery tickets or related matters defined under 18 U.S.C. 1302: Using the U.S. Postal Service to mail lottery tickets, payment for tickets, advertisements for lotteries, etc.;
- Postmaster or employee as lottery agent defined under 18 U.S.C. 1303: It's against federal law for any postmaster or employee of the Post Office to act as an agent for a lottery, to sell lottery tickets, or to knowingly deliver lottery material sent through the mail;
- Broadcasting lottery information defined under 18 U.S.C. 1304: It's a violation of federal law for any U.S.-licensed radio or TV station to broadcast lottery;
- Fishing contest will not apply under this statute where prizes are awarded as defined under 18 U.S.C. 1305;
- Participation by financial institutions as defined under 18 U.S.C. 1306;
- Exceptions related to specific advertisements and other information and to State-conducted lotteries as defined under 18 U.S.C. 1307;
- Limitation of applicability as defined under 18 U.S.C. 1308.
What Are the Common Legal Defenses?
A few defenses may apply if you've been accused of violating 18 U.S.C. 1301, which are discussed below.
Perhaps we can argue that you didn't know the tickets were unauthorized. To convict you of this crime, prosecutors must prove that you knowingly imported or transported unauthorized lottery tickets, sent payment for them across state lines, etc.
If you didn't know you weren't allowed to play that lottery out of state, you can't be convicted under 18 U.S.C. 1301.
Perhaps we can argue that lottery tickets are legal in your state. For example, if two states agree that lottery tickets can be bought and sold across their state boundary, you're not guilty under 18 U.S.C. 1301.
Perhaps we can argue that they are licensed within a state with a lottery and are broadcasting information related to that lottery.
If you are accused of a federal offense related to a lottery, we can provide legal representation to obtain the best possible outcome. We know what a prosecutor needs to prove their case and whether we can create reasonable doubt to avoid conviction.
You can contact our law firm for a case evaluation by phone or using the contact form. Eisner Gorin LLP is located in Los Angeles, CA.