Washington poker players have long had to deal with some of the harshest online poker laws in the United States.
While UIGEA and other regulations do make it illegal for companies to offer online poker in most of the USA, they do not criminalize playing on existing sites.
That’s why it is generally legal for players to join up on unregulated sites, even if the government might try to go after the operators.
But in the state of Washington, a 2006 law actually makes it a class C felony to play online poker in the state.
That means players are potentially risking jail time just by firing up a real money poker site on their computers.
New Bill Would Decriminalize Poker, Add Regulations
It’s a situation that State Representative Sherry Appleton (D-23rd District) wants to see change.
This week, Appleton introduced a bill that would end the criminal charges associated with online poker and regulate the industry in the state, allowing firms to apply for licenses to offer the game to Washington residents.
The bill offers only a few details about what Washington’s online poker landscape would look like.
Only poker would be authorized on the Internet, and there would be two levels of licenses available: one for those who want to establish networks, and another for those who want to open a skin on one of those networks
Most of the specific regulations would be in the hands of the Washington State Gambling Commission.
They would be tasked with overseeing the online poker market, and determining what kinds of taxes should be levied.
At the moment, the bill doesn’t include a bad actor clause, but this may be misleading: it’s possible that regulations on who would be eligible to apply for a license would also be created by the gambling commission were the law to pass.
Bill’s Future Uncertain, But Decriminalization is Goal
It’s unclear whether Appleton’s bill has any realistic chance of becoming law this year.
There have been no previous attempts to regulate online poker in the state, and doing so would be a huge leap from where the state is today.
But regardless of the ultimate success of the legislation, just getting the issue on the table could help advocates for a more modest change in Washington: the decriminalization of playing online poker.
“For too long, the state has taken a harsh stand against, and then turned a blind eye to, Internet poker,” Curtis Woodard, founder of the Washington Internet poker Initiative, told Online Poker Report. “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.”
Appleton was a natural fit for the bill. She has been pushing to decriminalize Internet poker for several years, having sponsored bills that would have repealed the felony charges for playing the game in the past.
Woodard hopes that the state’s card rooms and tribal groups will be willing to sign on to the legislation.
He believes that it’s time for those organizations to look at online poker as an opportunity rather than a threat to their existing businesses. Just like many entities in California have been reevaluating their positions as legislation moves forward in the Golden State.
He also says that the two-level licensing system will create unique opportunities for them in the Washington marketplace.
“It gives them equal opportunity to access the top platforms, with the networks competing with each other for their business,” Woodard said.