A long and weary battle over the legalization of online gambling in Washington State appears to be drawing to a conclusion. One of the only states to prohibit all types of unregulated online gambling, Washington State has been under a lot of pressure to change the system to allow online poker to go ahead.
Currently, if you are caught playing online poker in Washington State, the consequences can range from a misdemeanour, gross misdemeanour, or felony. Being charged with a felony could result in a $10,000 fine and/or up to 5 years in prison. But now it appears that Washington State has had a change of heart and is open to the notion of reducing or eliminating these penalties.
Though this is not the first time that the state has been approached to consider introducing new laws permitting online gambling, it is the first time that a good result for the poker community seems promising. A huge light was shone on the state’s draconian laws against online gambling in the appeal case of Rousso v. Washington State. Backed by the Poker Players Alliance, poker player and lawyer Lee Rousso argued in the Supreme Court that the laws against online poker were a violation of the commerce clause of the U.S. Constitution, which prohibits states from passing legislation that discriminates against interstate commerce. At that time, the Supreme Court upheld the state law, while making it clear that although the court did not necessarily endorse the law, it had to endorse the right of the legislature to pass the law.
Following on from this court case, House Bill 1824 was introduced in February 2013 which called for a reduction in penalties for recreational online poker, bringing it down from a Class C felony to a Class 3 civil infraction with a $50 fine. This bill failed to advance and nothing more was heard until a further House Bill (1114) was put forward in January 2015 with the intention of legalizing online poker, however, this bill was not heard due to a lack of support.
House Bill 1114 was re-introduced one year later, though it suffered a similar fate as its predecessors and failed to advance. It appeared that the legalization of online gambling in Washington State was just not meant to be, and that any further attempts would be a seriously long shot. To everyone’s surprise, however, following a Senate Committee meeting in January 2017, it was proposed that the bill be re-introduced. Could Washington State finally be ready to proceed with the legalization of online gambling?
They would be right to at least consider the possibility. A report by the Spectrum Gaming Group predicted that the legalization of online gambling would see gambling revenues grow 37% by 2020, while the regulation of online gambling would bring an additional $100 million to the state each year. The report, covering 173 pages, details that online gambling could be a huge source of income for the state due to the increase in use of mobile technology. Comparing the state to New Jersey, where residents have been able to legally play 888 poker games online since 2011, Spectrum noted that both states have similar demographics which could dictate a growth in income similar to that of New Jersey. It is also noted that online gambling is not a threat to physical casinos, who are concerned that their businesses will suffer with the introduction of another source of gaming. Spectrum were keen to point out that no such issue had occurred in New Jersey and that online gambling will pose no threat to existing businesses.
So, are Washington State likely to follow suit? It is looking very likely that the laws could change as early as 2018. Watch this space.