Online gambling in Washington State, apparently, was illegal since before the UIGEA of 2006. In fact, the 2006 law was an amendment to the 1973 Gambling Act. It was also implemented by governor Christine Gregoire, and as a result of this the act of gambling online, including specifically playing poker online, was made a Class C felony.
It was arduously fought by numerous parties, the most vocal of which was attorney Lee Rousso. Rousso has claimed that classification of online gaming as a felony was cruel and unusual punishment and it is in violation of the commerce clause of the U.S.
But first, here’s a bit of history. Rousso has been an ardent opponent of any kind of online gambling ban in the state, and has even run for Governor of Washington with the primary purpose of making changes to the political system. He withdrew his candidacy though, when it became apparent that it would not qualify for the 2008 primary race. At the time, Rousso has been quoted stating, “Even though I am dropping out of the political arena, I will continue to work to change the laws so that internet poker players can enjoy the Great American Game from the privacy of their own homes.”
It is infinitely arguable how many advantages online gambling has over the standard stuff. Like zero possibility of being mugged on your way to or from the casino in order to participate in a pastime activity that you enjoy. Still, online gambling has been vilified in great length by interested parties with their own hidden agendas, such as the religious right in general and even the entire state of Kentucky. It’s not that “they,” as in the collective “them,” do not want you to gamble online; instead “they” just want you to gamble in their own predefined and biased ways, such as horse racing at the track and bingo parlors. Of course, this being a democratic system ruling, most of the world (including all of the United States) should allow you to exercise choice as to where to take your money. This choice is being deprived from you at any given opportunity, without you even being aware it is happening.
Going back to Lee Rousso, he eventually became the Poker Players Alliance’s regional director for Washington and pursued his court case against the notorious state law challenging its constitutionality. Rousso argued that making online gambling a class c felony (maximum penalty 5 years in prison and $10,000 fine) is cruel and unusual punishment, and it violated the commerce clause of the U.S. Constitution. Basically, online poker is by law in Washington State mixed with the following: aggravated assault and/or battery, arson, burglary, illegal drug abuse/sales, embezzlement, grand theft, tax evasion, treason, espionage, racketeering, robbery, murder, rape, kidnapping and fraud. Broadly, felonies can be categorized as either violent or non-violent (property, drug, white-collar) offenses. To any normal person who understands and distinguishes between right and wrong, it’s ridiculous.
But apparently, lawmen with all their degrees and stuff to make them look ever so important, lack logic and common sense or at least appear to. In May 2008 King County’s Judge Mary Roberts upheld the state law. Rousso vowed to appeal the decision.
On Monday, March 23rd, the state appeals court rejected Rousso’s latest attempt at overturning the law. According to the Seattle Post Intelligencer, the three Division I judges noted that Lee Rousso would have to prove exactly how criminalizing internet poker imposes excessive burdens (see above as to how, Lee!). “Ultimately, given the importance of the state’s interest in protecting its citizens from the ills associated with gambling, and the relatively small cost imposed on out-of-state businesses by complying… Rousso has failed to meet his burden…”
Rousso is like a tireless English Bulldog however. He will continue to pursue the matter. To date, no online gamblers of Washington State have been prosecuted under this law, but Rousso feels the principle is important enough to make it clear that, in this case at least, The Law is idiotic and most likely manipulated by people with special interests not particularly in line with what’s good or not for the general populace, but rather, their own wallets are much, much, much more important.
So, Washingtonians, what can you do? Become obnoxious and write, call, email, visit, and do whatever you can to get in contact with your state representatives. Make sure your voices are heard for it to be known that you are big enough to know what you want to do with your money, and do not need the state government to be your nanny promoting her own brand of chocolates instead of giving you the chance to try whatever you like.