On Thursday, the Poker Players Alliance (PPA), the industry’s one million member strong lobbying force, staged a rally on the steps of the Washington State Supreme Court. Inside the building, PPA Washington State Director Lee Rousso was suing to declare a law that criminalizes online poker to be unconstitutional.
In comments released shortly after the hearing, PPA Chairman Alfonse D’Amato stated in a press release, “The PPA is pleased that the Washington State Supreme Court agreed to hear this case and today’s arguments have provided the court compelling reasons to reverse this ridiculous law. This law is not about the legislature protecting the state’s citizens, but rather about protecting special interests and tribal casinos from competition.” The state has legal card rooms and casinos.
Rousso is suing on the grounds that the statute, which makes playing online poker a Class C felony, violates the Commerce Clause of the United States Constitution. Scheduled to flank Rousso and D’Amato at the hearing were PPA Executive Director John Pappas and Full Tilt Poker pro Phil Gordon, a former World Poker Tour (WPT) champion and Washington native.
D’Amato was pleased with the number of concerned poker players who turned out to support Rousso during Thursday’s hearing and rally: “I was amazed by the turnout of poker players who joined us this morning on the steps of the Supreme Court. These Washington poker enthusiasts are doctors, lawyers, auto mechanics, and school teachers, not hardened felons. The Poker Players Alliance is grateful that the local poker community is so dedicated and I hope local lawmakers know that these voters care deeply about their freedoms.”
Two days prior to the hearing, the PPA released the results of a poll showing that 79% of 400 randomly selected Washington State voters oppose the law making criminals of online poker players. A total of 54% of respondents, or over half, stated that they strongly disagreed with the statute. Playing online poker, even for pennies, can result in up to five years behind bars and a $10,000 fine. A Class C felony is also given to those who possess child pornography and illegal substances like heroin.
Polled voters didn’t just oppose the status quo in Washington State; they wanted it changed entirely. Poll results revealed, “A majority of voters (54%) believe playing online poker in Washington should be legal if the government would ‘regulate and tax online poker and use what could be millions of new tax dollars to fill holes in the state’s budget.’” The PPA has 20,000 members in Washington State.
According to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer newspaper, the Washington State Supreme Court is likely to take six to nine months to offer up a ruling. Rousso told the media outlet that the case may end up in the U.S. Supreme Court “because he thinks it’s a cutting edge issue across the country.” The law was passed in 2006 prior to the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA). Washington State legislators have since explored online gambling options like keno.
On a national level, the PPA and its one million members are anxiously awaiting mandatory industry compliance with the regulations of the UIGEA, set to come on June 1st. No last-minute delay appears to be in order and what the landscape of the internet gambling industry in the United States will be come Tuesday is anyone’s guess. Government offices are closed on Monday due to the Memorial Day holiday.
Check out the highlights of the hearing and rally.