On May 27th, the Poker Players Alliance (PPA) will stage a rally outside of the Washington State Supreme Court in Olympia following Lee Rousso’s testimony to the judicial body. Rousso is attempting to overturn a law in the Pacific Northwest state that makes playing online poker a Class C felony.
Rousso is arguing that the Washington law should be struck down because it violates the Commerce Clause of the United States Constitution. Rousso, the PPA’s Washington State Director, told Poker News Daily, “The central argument is that Washington State’s statute that bans internet poker is protectionist in nature. It protects in-state businesses from out of state competition. The Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution doesn’t allow that. I think it’s clear that online poker is international commerce, which means that the states can’t regulate it.”
The Washington Court of Appeals agreed with many of Rousso’s points in a decision released in March 2009. However, it disagreed that the law was protectionist in nature. Rousso explained how the Court of Appeals could have missed this key argument: “The Court of Appeals took what I would call the ‘wrong inquiry.’ They asked whether the law treats all internet poker providers the same regardless of whether they are in-state or out of state, but there are no in-state operators. The correct inquiry is whether the law treats all poker providers fairly and the answer is no.” Whether the Washington Supreme Court will agree with Rousso’s logic remains to be seen.
The PPA has submitted an amicus brief in the case and will stage a rally on Thursday, May 27th at 10:00am PT. The Washington Supreme Court is located at 415 12th Avenue Southwest in Olympia and on-hand will be Full Tilt Poker front man Phil Gordon, a Washington native. Playing online poker in Washington is a Class C felony, the equivalent of child pornography and heroin possession. The controversial law was passed in 2006.
Whether the measure is actually enforced in Washington State is up for debate. However, Rousso, a lawyer by trade, revealed that clients have come to him after running into trouble with the law. On why he chose to take to the legal system, Rousso explained, “Even though the law hasn’t been enforced, I believe there are thousands of players who quit playing when it was passed. I also don’t think you can trust the State not to enforce it forever. Somewhere down the road, they might want to make an example out of somebody.”
PPA Chairman Alfonse D’Amato, a former three-term Republican Senator, will travel to Olympia for the rally. Joining him will be PPA Executive Director John Pappas and local members of the organization. The PPA boasts more than one million members overall. The state of Washington has a number of land-based casinos and local card rooms, which Rousso noted were elated when the law criminalizing internet gambling passed four years ago.
The Washington Supreme Court formally accepted Rousso’s case last September. He’ll be representing himself and the PPA will also bring a lawyer to the proceedings. Filing a joint amicus brief were Cheryl Blake, John Blake, Rob Esene, and Jim Gauley, who are described as “poker players who want to compete in poker games on the internet using gaming sites like PokerStars.”
One week prior to the rally in Washington State, the PPA will sponsor Annie Duke Celebrity Poker Night on May 20th at the Commerce Casino in Los Angeles. The $250 buy-in tournament with $100 rebuys benefits After-School All-Stars. Stay tuned to Poker News Daily for the latest on Rousso’s case.