Washington State Advocates Fighting for Online Poker Reform

Seal_of_WashingtonIn 2006 Washington State passed what many consider to be one of the most draconian gambling laws in the country, a law that makes playing online poker in the state a felony.

With online poker players potentially facing jail time and stiff fines Washington State has without question the strictest online gambling laws in the country, but there are plenty of people fighting to not only repeal the current ban, but to take the next step and legalize online poker in the state.

Background on the 2006 law

Since the enactment of SSB 6613 the mere act of playing online poker in Washington State is considered a class C felony (it should be noted that nobody has ever been arrested or prosecuted under this statute) as the law states:

“Whoever knowingly transmits or receives gambling information by telephone, telegraph, radio, semaphore, the internet, a telecommunications transmission system, or similar means, or knowingly installs or maintains equipment for the transmission or receipt of gambling information shall be guilty of a class C felony…”

Washington State Senator Margarita Prentice was the driving force behind the online gambling ban in the state, and has been dismissive of poker over the years, once telling ESPN’s Gary Wise, “I just think some of these arguments are utter nonsense. You mean you’re going to move so you can play poker? Gee, lots of luck in your life… I have nothing against card playing. That’s fine. If you want to do that, but I’m sure not going to worry about someone… you know. Let them go pump gas.”

Not everyone is on board with Prentice’s views, and it took several hard-fought years to go into effect, including court battles with appeals that went up to the State Supreme Court in 2010, but so far the ban and criminalization of online poker in Washington State has been upheld.

Prentice’s law was challenged not only in the courts but legislatively and at the grassroots level as well. “There have been a few efforts in both the legislature and by way of initiative to repeal or lessen our State ban on internet gaming but those have not advanced very far,” Chris Stearns, the Commissioner of the Washington State Gambling Commission told me.

The poker community can breathe a sigh of relief knowing that Prentice’s 20 year run in the state senate ended in 2013.

Looking at 2014 and beyond

Poker activist Curtis Woodard, whose Washington Internet Poker Initiative group Stearns cited above pushed forward a pair of failed ballot initiatives last year, and is now working on a new effort, “I’ve been pushing an idea for legislation based on the network model, separating the card rooms from the software providers, with emphasis on shared liquidity,” Woodard said. Adding, “There has been some interest shown but I haven’t really made any big strides this year… This is a work in progress and I don’t have all the details worked out, and actually I want the Tribes to give some input to assure they know we are concerned about their interests.”

Stearns also sees a future for online poker in the state, telling me, “… as internet gaming, including internet poker, grows in popularity and in legal markets across the United States, the Washington State Gambling Commission has made a concerted effort to monitor developments in order to learn how other jurisdictions are regulating and safeguarding internet gaming.”

Looking beyond this year, ahead to 2015 and 2016, Woodard sees several potential paths presenting themselves, stating, “The goal this year is to come up with a measure that can be agreed upon in the next session (2015) that runs January-April. Failing that we can look at an initiative drive for next year, that would likely put the measure on the ballot in 2016.”

2016 is of course a presidential election year, where voter turnout is much higher and turnout is less likely to be dominated by single issue voters looking to fight down-ballot referendums and initiatives.

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