After a decision from the state’s Supreme Court regarding the legality of a law set in place four years ago, the top online site in the poker industry, PokerStars, has made the move to no longer accept cash players from the state of Washington.
In an e-mail message sent to residents of the state of Washington, PokerStars spells out the unfortunate news. “To date, PokerStars has operated in Washington on the basis of legal opinions where the central advice was that the state could not constitutionally regulate Internet poker, or at least could not discriminate in favor of local card rooms and against online sites. Last week, however, the Washington Supreme Court for the first time rejected that position and upheld the state’s Internet gaming prohibition.”
The e-mail continued, “In light of this decision, following extensive consultation with our legal advisors, we believe that the right course of action is to now block real money play by Washington residents on the PokerStars.com site.” PokerStars emphasized that the company always has legal issues in mind when offering their wares, stating, “In all of the jurisdictions where we operate, we are committed to making responsible decisions that are based on a full and considered understanding of the most up-to-date legal advice.” Although Washington residents can no longer play on the cash side of PokerStars, the company is making agents available to assist in any cashout issues players may have.
The battle over Washington’s internet gaming laws dates back to 2006, when the state legislature fortified its stance regarding the issue. At that time, the Washington state legislature passed a bill led by Representative Margarita Prentice and signed by Governor Christine Gregoire that outlawed online gaming and poker. The statute upped its punishment for violation from a misdemeanor to a Class C felony. This put playing poker online on the same level as child molestation and made it punishable by up to a year in jail. The new law also put strict regulations against advertising for online gaming.
The Washington State Director of the Poker Players Alliance, Lee Rousso, took the case to court, arguing that the law was unconstitutional on the grounds that it violated the Commerce Clause of the United States Constitution. Rousso’s challenge wound its way through the Washington court system, with the lower courts upholding the law at every step, until it reached the Washington State Supreme Court last week.
In the decision rendered by the Washington State Supreme Court, the justices did not rule on the legality of online gaming, stating, “It is not the role of the judiciary to second-guess the wisdom of the legislature, which enacted this ban.” Instead, the justices ruled on Rousso’s contention that the law violated the U.S. Constitution. Citing the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA) of 2006 and the Wire Act of 1961, the Washington State Supreme Court ruled that there was no violation of the law. In essence, the Washington legislation applied evenhandedly to in-state and out-of-state interests, so it would stand. In a statement to Poker News Daily last week, Rousso said he would pursue the case to the United States Supreme Court, although it is unknown if or when the highest court in the land would take on the case.
The decision rendered yesterday by PokerStars has drawn extensive commentary through the message boards at the TwoPlusTwo and PocketFives.com forums. Many are wondering whether the second largest internet poker room, Full Tilt Poker, will follow suit, and others wonder if it will lead to a “domino effect” of other states passing similar legislation.
PokerStars points out that it welcomes regulation in the e-mail sent to Washington players. As a closing point to the letter, the company states, “PokerStars remains supportive of passing sensible Internet poker regulation in the United States that will provide much-needed tax revenues and formalize consumer protections. PokerStars operates under those conditions, complying with rigorous licensing regimes, for its worldwide operations in the Isle of Man (UK), and for local operations in Italy, France and Estonia.”