Poker Laws and Online Gambling in Washington State

Washington State is something of a special case when it comes to online poker in the United States . Poker players in Washington have to contend with a legal state of affairs that is both quite restrictive and completely unique. The love/hate relationship that Washington has with poker spans the breadth of gambling. Washington chose long ago to take a rare stance on internet poker, actually rendering it illegal and a potential felony. At the same time, the law permits live poker in dozens of tribal casinos and card rooms across the state. Sports betting is confined to tribal casinos only.

Washington also stands out as the only state to take on play-money gaming sites as problematic.

Let’s take a closer look at the intricacies of Washington poker and gambling. Key Washington Laws and Cases

Washington is one of the few states in America that explicitly calls out online poker as a crime. Worse, it designates the activity as a felony.

In 2006, then-State Senator Margarita Prentice sponsored a bill to make online poker a felony with a $10K fine or five-year prison sentence as the penalty. While most states threatened to penalize online gambling operators, Prentice wanted Washington to punish players. She got her wish that June when then-Governor Christine Gregoire signed the bill into law. As a result, online poker became a Class C felony.

A Seattle attorney named Lee Rousso sued the state in 2008 over the right to play poker online. Despite numerous appeals and support from the then-influential Poker Players Alliance, the Washington State Supreme Court rejected the case in 2010.

In the years that followed, there was talk of new bills to overturn the online poker law, but they never progressed through the legislature. There was little support to address the issue, especially after the State Supreme Court ruling.

Other court cases have put free-play online gaming in the spotlight, showing Washington’s propensity for overreacting to online gambling. For example, Big Fish, an online casino game developer based in Seattle and operating since 2002, is fighting players in court who declare that the option to buy play-money chips […]

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