Washington State Supreme Court Upholds Internet Gambling Law



In breaking news, the Washington State Supreme Court has upheld a law that makes playing online poker a Class C felony. Poker Players Alliance (PPA) Washington State Director Lee Rousso, a lawyer by trade, sued to declare the harsh law unconstitutional on the grounds that it violated the Commerce Clause of the United States Constitution.

The Court’s opinion opened by noting that the Washington state legislature had not yet legalized online poker; therefore, it was not the job of the State Supreme Court to second-guess that judgment: “It is not the role of the judiciary to second-guess the wisdom of the legislature, which enacted this ban. The court has no authority to conduct its own balancing of the pros and cons stemming from banning, regulating, or openly permitting internet gambling.” Instead, its assessment focused mainly on whether the statute violated the Commerce Clause.

After evaluating the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA) and Wire Act of 1961, the Washington State Supreme Court asserted, “The statute prohibits internet gambling evenhandedly, regardless of whether the company running the website is located in or outside the state of Washington. The effects imposed on in-state and out-of-state entities engaging or that would engage in internet gambling are the same… The dormant Commerce Clause only prevents a state from discriminating based on whether the business is in-state or out-of-state.” Therefore, the Washington law does not discriminate against foreign and out-of-state online gambling interests.

The Court then dove into a moral evaluation of internet gambling, explaining in its decision, “Internet gambling introduces new ways to exacerbate these same threats to health, welfare, safety, and morals. Gambling addicts and underage gamblers have greater accessibility to online gambling – able to gamble from their homes immediately and on demand, at any time, on any day, unhindered by in-person regulatory measures. Concerns over ties to organized crime and money laundering are exacerbated where online gambling operations are not physically present in-state to be inspected for regulatory compliance.”

The decision accordingly read in part, “Washington has a legitimate and substantial state interest in addressing the effects of internet gambling.” The State Supreme Court justices argued that online poker and internet gambling outfits could merely exclude its residents from play to comply with the law.

Rousso told Poker News Daily on Friday that he plans to appeal the ruling to the Supreme Court in Washington, DC. Whether the nation’s highest judicial body would take the case remains to be seen.

PPA Chairman Alfonse D’Amato commented in a press release distributed by the organization on Thursday, “We are extremely disappointed in the State Supreme Court’s ruling given the clear evidence that the state legislature never sought to regulate internet poker as it does in-state brick-and-mortar card rooms and internet horse racing, but instead simply banned internet poker and, even worse, criminalized the players. This law is still a mistake and we will continue to fight to have it overturned.”

The PPA submitted an amicus brief in the case arguing that other jurisdictions have successfully legalized and regulated online poker. While Rousso was giving oral arguments to the court in May, the PPA staged a large-scale rally on the courthouse steps.

The decision in Washington marked the second major legal development for our industry this week. Also on Thursday, the Kentucky Supreme Court ruled that the case involving the seizure and potential forfeiture of 141 internet gambling domain names should head back to the trial court level. There, Judge Thomas Wingate will determine whether the Interactive Media Entertainment and Gaming Association (iMEGA) and Interactive Gaming Council (IGC) have standing. No date for oral arguments has been set.

Read the entire Washington State Supreme Court decision. Stay tuned for the latest legal headlines right here on Poker News Daily.

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