A bill that seeks to legalize and regulate online poker in Washington State has been presented this week, just as the new legislative session got underway Monday.
While efforts to regulate the game have been ongoing for some time in California, and murmurings, but not much more, have been coming out of Pennsylvania, the Washington State poker bill has come completely out of the blue, especially when you consider that the Evergreen State is the only place in America where it is technically illegal to play online poker.
State lawmakers outlawed the act playing of online poker in 2006, making it a Class C felony, which means it could potentially carry up to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine, although no one has ever been prosecuted under this legislation.
While the bill has been presented to the legislature by Representative Sherry Appleton (D), much of the credit should go to Curtis Woodward of the Washington Internet Poker Initiative, who has been a tireless campaigner against prohibition.
Prohibition Not Working
“For too long, the state has taken a harsh stand against, and then turned a blind eye to, internet poker,” Woodard told Online Poker Report this week. “This state allows us to play poker in Tribal casinos and licensed card rooms, but considers us felons if we play from the privacy of our homes on our computers. This is not only silly, it is ineffective, as players continue to play on sites operated from outside the state’s reach, and without any real consumer protections.”
But what of the bill itself? Well, HB1114 is very much a starting point, with a lot still to fleshed out. It doesn’t propose a level of taxation, which, it says, should be determined by the Gaming Commission, and it makes no mention of a bad actor clause.
However, it would open the door to interstate player pool-sharing, at the discretion of the governor.
It also proposes the argument that prohibition fails to adequately protect consumers.
Regulation to Protect the Consumer
“Despite a lack of regulation due to prohibition, playing poker over the internet remains popular with Washington state players,” the bill added. “To better protect the people of Washington from potential danger from, and to maintain oversight of the systems used to carry out internet poker, the legislature finds it to be in the interest of the people to establish a regulatory framework by which entities, as authorized by the Washington state gambling commission or a tribal regulator, may offer poker games to players within Washington state over the internet.”
Whatever the fate of bill HB1114 may be, it will at the very least open up a debate on the regulation of online poker and on the legislation that has, until now, at least nominally, viewed players as criminals.