Washington State’s hearing on online poker last week featured an unusual star witness: high-school math teacher David Shick.
Shick, who describes himself as a “math stud rather than a math nerd,” was there to testify that he had committed a crime: namely, playing online poker in the only state in the US where doing so could get you locked up.
“I’m here to tell you, first of all, this is absolutely a game of skill,” Shick told the Washington Senate Commerce, Labor & Sports Committee, having shown lawmakers a graph plotting his 2009 winnings over 214,000 hands. “It was absolutely secure, and it was safe,” he assured them.
“I have a talent that I can do math very quickly in my head. I can keep my emotions in check, and I made money doing it,” he explained. “From a purely selfish impact, why am I here?” asked Shick. “I miss my second job. I would like to be able to play and use my talent, my skill, in order to profit from it.”
“The Law is a Joke”
Lawmakers made the act of playing online poker a Class C felony in 2006 by approving Section 9.46.240 of its gambling law. The amendment declares that anyone who “knowingly transmits or receives gambling information by telephone, telegraph, radio, semaphore, the Internet, a telecommunications transmission system, or similar means” is violating the law.
This means that, theoretically at least, just playing online poker could land you a prison sentence of up to five years and a $10,000 fine, although no one has ever been prosecuted for doing so, as Shick noted.
“I realized that the state law was just an absolute joke,” he told the hearing. “Nobody was being arrested. And so here I am admitting that I’m a Class C felon. If that means I’m going to be arrested, I guess I could be the first one.”
Let’s hope Mr Shick made the assembled lawmakers blush like naughty schoolboys.
Thousands in Washington Play Online
Last week’s hearing was held despite the fact that no online poker bills have yet been introduced this session, but it does suggests there may be an appetite, at least, among some legislators to take another look at the law.
Bills to legalize online poker were presented in 2015 and 2016, thanks largely to the crusading efforts of Curtis Woodward, the founder of the Washington Internet Poker Initiative, but both failed to gain any support in Olympia.
This doesn’t change the fact that thousands in Washington are playing poker illegally and without any real player protections, said John Pappas Executive Director of the Poker Players Alliance. His organization has 1.2 million members nationwide, including 17,000 in Washington.
“There are already thousands of Washingtonians gambling online without oversight or protection,” Pappas said.