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Emily D. Swoboda

Washington State Joins the US Prohibition Club

9 May 2006

Through the adoption of Senate Bill 6613, Washington in March became the latest U.S. state to ban online gambling.

The new law extends the state's Gambling Act of 1973--which, like the federal Wire Act of 1961, prohibits making wagers over phone lines--by prohibiting gambling that uses new technologies like the Internet. Unlike the Wire Act, which contains concise language related to betting on events (sports betting), the amended Washington law makes all forms of electronic gambling illegal.

Infringement comes at a hefty price. Violating the Gambling Act was originally considered a gross misdemeanor, but an amendment to SB 6613 makes doing so a Class C felony, which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison, a $10,000 fine or both. The law does not make a distinction between the casual bettor and the gambling enterprise.

Democratic Sen. Margarita Prentice, along with her colleagues Democratic Senators Karen Keiser, Adam Kline, Marilyn Rasmussen and Paull Shin, introduced Senate Bill 6613 on Jan. 17, 2006. The legislation was amended to include the felony language and sent to the House on Feb.16. It was signed by Gov. Christine Gregoire on March 28 and will be implemented June 7.

Alison R. Grazzini, a legislative assistant to Prentice, acknowledged that enforcing the law is going to be tough.

"The real issue is whether law enforcement officials and prosecutors will have the resources and priorities to go after individual online poker players," Grazzini said. "Most anticipate that the Internet providers will be the focus of most enforcement efforts."

How Washington authorities will enforce the new law isn't clear, but some are theorizing the state will go after credit card companies and Internet service providers, similar to what the Italian government has done in its efforts to block foreign gambling sites from offering their services to Italian citizens.

Grazzini said that making the penalty more severe could deter Washington residents from partaking in online gambling services.

"Increasing the penalty from gross misdemeanor to felony does help the state when it participates in joint-state or joint-state and federal efforts," she said. "However, the difficulty in finding and obtaining legal jurisdiction over entities that have no physical presence in Washington will likely remain a road block to any effective, broad-based enforcement. However, assuming at least some people will be motivated by a concern about the possibility they may be caught, there will be a corresponding decrease in the use of such sites by Washington citizens. I know that some credit card account agreements consider payments from processing wagers to be invalid, and don't process them. But, the difficulty lies in figuring out a way to distinguish transactions that have a legitimate purpose from those that don't."

One major difference between the Gambling Act and SB6613 is that the Gambling Act does not apply to pari-mutuel wagering authorized by the Horse Racing Commission or the selling or purchasing of tickets or shares in the state lottery, but SB 6613 prohibits the Lottery Commission from selling tickets over the Internet. If the Commission wants to offer any game that "allows or requires a player to use a device that electronically replicates any game of chance, including electronic scratch tickets," an affirmative vote of 60 percent of both Senate and the House is required.

Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana, Michigan, Nevada, Oregon, South Dakota and now Washington have laws specifically outlawing certain forms of Internet gambling, with pending legislation in New Jersey that seeks to specifically name Internet gambling as an illegal form.

Phone calls from IGN to Washington's Lottery Commission were not returned.

Click here to view a copy of Washington SB 6613.

Washington State Joins the US Prohibition Club is republished from
Emily D. Swoboda
Emily D. Swoboda