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Emily D. Swoboda
 

Wash. State Attorney Promises Fight to the Finish

16 May 2008

A Washington State attorney has promised to take his fight against the state's online gambling ban all the way to the state Supreme Court if necessary.

Lee H. Rousso last July challenged a 2006 state law that made online gambling a felony, punishable by five years in prison, a $10,000 fine or both. He argued that the law was unconstitutional and unfairly favors the state's land-based casino industry.

Nevertheless, King County Superior Court Judge Mary E. Roberts found that Mr. Rousso failed to show that the law was unconstitutional and dismissed his case. He was granted legal standing to pursue an appeal, however, on which he is wasting no time.

"I'll get those wheels turning on Monday when I file my notice of appeal," Mr. Rousso, a partner with Renton-based firm Green & Rousso, told Interactive Gaming News.

While the law promises harsh penalties for violation, no citizen has been prosecuted and state regulators admit the spotlight is on operators, not poker players.

"Players do fall under (the law), but the focus of our enforcement is the Web site operators," Susan Arland, a spokesperson for the Washington State Gambling Commission, told Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

Martin D. Owens, a California-based gaming lawyer, believes the state's Legislature passed a foolish and unenforceable law.

"This is like some silly old nanny claiming to have eyes in the back of her head," Mr. Owens said pointedly. "Even the staunchest anti-gambling states -- Utah and Hawaii -- don't talk about sending somebody to jail on a felony charge."

There may be some hope for the poker players in the Evergreen State, at least.

Former State Representative Chris Strow, Republican of Freeland, last year introduced a bill to protect citizens from felony charges as long as they can prove that they gamble online for recreational purposes, not for business -- regardless of whether money is wagered.

The bill did not see any action during the 2007 session, but Mr. Strow reintroduced it in January. While Mr. Strow resigned from his post shortly thereafter, the bill remains before the Legislature.

Mr. Rousso, who is also the Washington State director of the Poker Players Alliance, said changing the Internet gambling law is going to take time, but the attention his case has garnered may lend itself to making lawmakers more aware of who's voting for them.

"While we haven't yet won in a court of law, we're winning in the court of public opinion here in Washington," Mr. Rousso said. "I think when people learn about this law the typical citizen realizes that the government is just reaching way too far."

Mr. Rousso wouldn't say he is pleased with Thursday's decision, but he is positive about the outcome.

"Regardless of who won yesterday, this is a case that was eventually going to be decided by the Court of Appeals, and you can't get to the Court of Appeals unless you go to the trial court first," Mr. Rousso said.

"It took me so long just to get my day in court that I felt -- win or lose -- it was just an accomplishment to get my hearing."

Wash. State Attorney Promises Fight to the Finish is republished from iGamingNews.com.
Emily D. Swoboda
Emily D. Swoboda