Superior Court Judge Mary Roberts of King County in Washington state, dealt a huge blow to online poker fans yesterday. Roberts upheld a 2006 law passed in Washington State, that made playing Internet poker a felony. Roberts announced her decision as nearly 70-80 poker supporters outside the Justice center exuded their disbelief.
“We are not criminals. We’re not people off in the hinterland. We really are average citizens,” said Drew Lesofski, the Washington, D.C.-based director of Poker Players Alliance. His group, which claims a million members nationwide, organized the rally. “This censorship can’t be tolerated,” he said.
Lee Rousso, an attorney fighting for Internet poker player rights, argued that this law violated a US Constitutional commerce clause and is cruel and unusual punishment. Rousso continued to ascertain that this law was a protectionist measure by the state that discriminates against legal, out of state companies, who would like to do business in Washington. The law forces gamblers in the state to frequent their local casinos and to spend money in the state as opposed to online.
Not surprisingly, the original bill was sponsored by Senator Margarita Prentice, who’s district has a number of casinos and land based poker rooms that capitalize from the law. A similar type of practice is happening throughout Europe, where countries are trying to ban online gambling so that citizens spend money in their state operated card rooms and casinos. The Netherlands is one such country trying to crack down on Internet gambling, but is facing fierce resistance from the European Union (EU). The EU is giving countries like The Netherlands and Greece a final warning before bringing them to court.
The same thing cannot be said here as the US government shows no signs of stepping in to repeal this decision. Currently, there is no explicit federal law against playing Internet poker. Some argue that the 1961 Wire Act, which essentially made betting and making wagers on sports over a wire communication facility a crime, does not explicitly refer to Internet poker.
Punishment for Internet Gambling in Washington State
Since the law was enacted in 2006, no Internet poker player has been charged. A representative from the Washington State Gambling Commission stated that players do fall under the law, but their primary focus has been on operators of Internet gambling sites. Again, this law makes it a Class C felony, for a person caught playing poker online in the state of Washington, a crime on the same level as child molestation.
Internet Poker Player Reactions
“I don’t know why the government would want to put me in jail, because I want to relax and play poker a couple of hours a night in the privacy of my home,” said Linda McCabe.
For many Internet poker players, they want to see big brother stay out of their lives. They see it as a hypocrisy that the government can outlaw an average citizen from playing Internet poker, but still allow their citizens to purchase lottery tickets from them online. This is a serious issue not only for Internet gamblers but for individuals rights in the United States. It should be interesting to see if other states follow suit.
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