Online Poker Law Upheld in Washington
A Court of Appeals in the State of Washington has upheld a law that makes playing online poker a felony. The case, which was filed by the Washington State Director for the Poker Players Alliance (PPA), Lee Rousso, may now head to the Washington Supreme Court. Poker News Daily sat down with Rousso to learn more.
Rousso seeks to prove that the law in question, the 2006 Gambling Act, is unconstitutional. Specifically, Rousso charges that it violated the Commerce Clause of the United States Constitution. However, with a negative ruling handed down by the Washington Court of Appeals (Division I), the next hope for Rousso lies with the State Supreme Court. He told Poker News Daily, “The Supreme Court gets to decide if they’ll take it. I think there’s a pretty good chance they will. There’s also a possibility that it could end up in front of the U.S. Supreme Court. It’s more difficult to get local judges to strike down their own state’s laws.”
The Court of Appeals summarized its judgment, saying, “Ultimately, given the importance of the State’s interests in protecting its citizens from the ills associated with gambling, and the relatively small cost imposed on out-of-state businesses by complying with the Gambling Act, Rousso has failed to meet his burden of showing that the Gambling Act is ‘clearly excessive.’” The Court also found that, rather that applying a special legal analysis to the internet, it should be treated the same as telephones and radios. The Court of Appeals explained that the internet serves as the same purposes as these older technologies, but operates “more quickly, cheaply, and efficiently.”
Rousso will now attempt to explain to the Washington State Supreme Court that the Act is protectionist in favor of legal card rooms and casinos. The law is among the harshest in the country, putting online poker players in the same category as those possessing child pornography. Playing on PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker, Bodog, or any site that accepts U.S. players is officially a Class C felony in Washington and punishable by up to five years in jail and up to a $10,000 fine. Rousso explained how the 2006 law came about: “The legislature is not well-educated on the issue. There is really one person in the legislature who claims she is a gambling expert, but isn’t. Most people probably had no idea that they were making it a felony.”
A player’s house, car, and other property can also be seized if they are found guilty of battling it out on the online poker felts. Rousso explained that while the PPA has had success in other states, including Pennsylvania and South Carolina, of determining that poker is a skill game, the law in Washington states that gambling applies to all card games. Therefore poker is considered gambling regardless of whether it is predominated by skill. Although in a traditional sense it applies to tangible cards, the law can most likely be applied to the online world. Rousso explained, “I’m assuming that virtual cards count also.”
Despite his most recent setback, Rousso is looking forward to his appeal to the highest court in the Northwest state. He explained, “They’ve given me enough that it’s worth an appeal. As you move up through the courts, the issues tend to become clearer and narrower. In the part of the decision where the Court of Appeals rules against me, I think they’ve given me enough to get a good argument.” No timeline has been given as to when Rousso will file his appeal.
The three judges on Rousso’s Court of Appeals panel included Stephen J. Dwyer, Ronald Cox, and J. Robert Leach. Last May, Judge Mary E. Roberts also ruled against Rousso in a King County court room.
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