The State of Washington is a proverbial hotbed of gambling activity. City by city, county by county, there are well over one hundred gambling facilities in Washington, including tribal casinos, commercial casinos, poker rooms and pari-mutuel betting tracks. State officials have been packing the tax coffers with gambling dollars for years now. It’s clear that the leaders of the Evergreen State have nothing against gambling in general. But where does Washington stand on the subject of online poker?
Only a very few US states chose to incorporate revisions to their general gambling laws after the Department of Justice cracked down on what they deemed to be illegal offshore online poker sites in the Spring of 2011; even less before then, after the passage of the UIGEA in 2006. The majority of US states still haven’t bothered to create any specific legislation aimed at either legalization or prohibition of wagering over the internet. However, Washington State was one of the very first to amend its laws to address the issue, and it wasn’t for legalization.
Legality of Online Poker in Washington
While it’s still possible to find a reputable online poker site that will accept players from Washington, it’s a very short list. That’s because Washington took the time to revise its gambling statutes almost immediately after the UIGEA went into effect in 2006 making it illegal to gambling online. Let’s take a look at the gambling laws of Washington and how they pertain to online poker and other internet gambling activities. We’ll then take a moment to review the probabilities of future regulation in the Evergreen State.
Revised Code of Washington – Gambling
The Revised Code of Washington contains the following text which we’ve found to be clearly related to the illegal nature of online poker in the state. Please note that some context may be abridged to sustain relevancy without altering the meaning.
RCW 9.46.0237 Gambling:
“Gambling”, as used in this chapter, means staking or risking something of value upon the outcome of a contest of chance or a future contingent event not under the person’s control or influence, upon an agreement or understanding that the person or someone else will receive something of value in the event of a certain outcome; [excludes authorized lotteries, fishing derbies, pari-mutuel betting, handicapping and bona fide business transactions.]
9.46.0269 Professional gambling:
(1) A person is engaged in “professional gambling” for the purposes of this chapter when:
(b) Acting other than in a manner authorized by this chapter, the person pays a fee to participate in a card game, contest of chance, lottery, or other gambling activity…
9.46.0245 Gambling information:
“Gambling information”, as used in this chapter, means any wager made in the course of and any information intended to be used for professional gambling…
9.46.240 Gambling information, transmitting or receiving.
Whoever knowingly transmits or receives gambling information by telephone, telegraph, radio, semaphore, the internet, a telecommunications transmission system, or similar means, or knowingly installs or maintains equipment for the transmission or receipt of gambling information [except where authorized] shall be guilty of a class C felony…
NOTE: State policy — 2006 c 290: “It is the policy of this state to prohibit all forms and means of gambling, except where carefully and specifically authorized and regulated. With the advent of the internet and other technologies and means of communication that were not contemplated when either the gambling act was enacted in 1973, or the lottery commission was created in 1982, it is appropriate for this legislature to reaffirm the policy prohibiting gambling that exploits such new technologies.” [2006 c 290 § 1.]
RCW 9A.20.021 Maximum sentences for crimes committed July 1, 1984, and after.
For a class C felony, by confinement in a state correctional institution for five years, or by a fine in an amount fixed by the court of ten thousand dollars, or by both such confinement and fine.
What does it all mean? Is online poker illegal in Washington?
The state annotated its gambling laws in 2006 to specifically address the prohibition of gambling via superior technologies that were invented after the state’s original gambling laws were written, including that of the internet. All forms of gambling, except those explicitly authorized by the state, are illegal. The relevant factors of the law include the following:
–Gambling information includes “any wager made in the course of… professional gambling…”
–Professional gambling includes when a “person pays a fee to participate in a card game”. Standard, real-money online poker sites collect a fee for tournaments and a rake at cash games, which falls directly into that definition.
-Under 9.46.240, anyone who “knowingly transmits or receives gambling information by… the internet… shall be guilty of a class C felony”.
Not only is gambling over the internet in any way shape or form (unless authorized and/or licensed by the state) entirely illegal, it’s punishable as a Class C Felony, which carries a very stiff penalty of 5 years in prison and/or $10,000 in fines.
Is Washington working to regulate online poker?
There have been some interesting movements to arise in Washington over the last year. In February, a bill was proposed to reduce the charge for online gambling in Washington from a Class C felony to a mere fine of up to $50. During a hearing to discuss that option, it was also mentioned by a few representatives of the committee that online poker should be decriminalized altogether and instead regulated by the state, but the entire concept died with that hearing.
Then in March, professional poker player Curtis Woodard proposed a measure called the Washington State Internet Poker Act of 2014 wherein he attempted to put online poker regulation to a public vote on next year’s ballot. Nothing has come of it yet, but the proposal still remains on the table and if enough support arises – Woodard anticipated at least 300,000 signatures from his fellow poker enthusiasts – it is possible that online poker regulation could be on the ballot in November 2014. Thus online poker could eventually become a regulated reality in the Evergreen State in another year or two.