How we got here

Under language adopted in 2006, RCW 9.46.240 makes it a Class C Felony in our state to play poker online. The absurdity of this is off the charts. Washington State has a long history of legal poker, with card rooms and Tribal casinos offering the game throughout the state. So while our legislature 'allows' us to play at these businesses, they have made us criminals for playing the same game from the privacy of our homes.

Some will argue that this was done to protect those Tribal interests, along with their monopoly on casino games in Washington State. Others take the opinion that online poker, and online gambling in general, is inherently unsafe due to its unregulated nature, and the prohibition aims to protect us from ourselves. The problem with both of these positions is that the prohibition fails on both accounts.

Online poker is alive and well in Washington State, in spite of the prohibition. The largest US-facing internet gaming sites still serves Washington State players. It's worth noting that the same operator has largely withdrawn voluntarily from the markets where online gambling is regulated. And in the now ten years since the enactment of Senate Bill 6613, not a single case has been brought for violating this section of the RCW. No players, no operators, no enforcement whatsoever.

Does a law that need not be enforced, need be at all?

So, who are we protecting? We aren't protecting Tribal monopolies, because the offshore operators continue to serve players here virtually unfettered. We are not protecting the players from themselves, because they can still play, and do so with no consumer protections to assure they don't suffer fraud and abuse, nor are there any mechanisms in place to prevent underage play, nor to address and prevent potential problem gambling issues.

Which begs the question, why must we protect the status quo.?

At the urging of Washington State poker players, Rep. Sherry Appleton introduced a bill to regulate internet poker in Washington State, a comprehensive measure that would have actually protected the players and the state's gambling interests, offering safeguards for players instead of the hollow threat of prosecution. Unfortunately it brought no special interest support (I mean money, btw) and failed to get a hearing.

It is easy enough, I suppose, to just ignore the issue. To pretend it doesn't matter enough to address in such a limited legislative session. But with 1,300 bills introduced in the last session, I think they can find the time to hear this issue. After all, they found the time to hastily pass a bill making felons out of every day folks for playing a game at home they're allowed to play at the Tribal casino. They ought to find the time to rethink that knee-jerk policy.

It is better for all concerned to have safe, legal, and regulated sites available to those who wish to play, an alternative to shady offshore sites, and one licensed within the United States to assure proper oversight. Amending RCW9.46.240 to allow in-state interests to offer online poker, or serve as affiliates for licensed online poker.

There is strength in numbers, and by joining Washington Internet Poker Initiative you add your voice to the fight for licensed and regulated internet poker in Washington State. Become a member today, jump into the conversation on our forum, and get involved!

We welcome the opportunity to inform the Legislature and the public about the nature of the game, to dispel misconceptions, and to push for the consumer protections that State regulation will provide. It is only through licensing and regulation of internet poker that the Washington State Gambling Commission can fulfill it's mission to Protect the Public by Ensuring that Gambling is Legal and Honest.