Crime in the Suites: An Analyis of Current Issues in White Collar Defense
Oct 15
2010

A New Turn for Washington State’s Online Poker Law

After the unanimous rejection by the Washington State Supreme Court of a lawsuit that attempted to overturn the state’s draconian ban on online poker, proponents of the game now say that they’re going to go to the state legislature and try to get the law repealed, rather than pursue the challenge in the U.S. Supreme Court.

On Sept. 23, 2010, the state court rejected the case brought by Lee Rousso, an attorney who is also the state director of the Poker Players Alliance, against the 2006 law. The challenge was based on the so-called “dormant commerce clause,” a constitutional rule that prohibits states, under some circumstances, from placing excessive burdens on interstate commerce.

As is true for many controversial issues, there are strong arguments here in favor of seeking a repeal of an undesirable law rather than relying on the courts to declare the law unconstitutional. As an elected body, a state legislature represents the democratic will of the people of the state. So a repeal of the poker law would indicate that there is a popular consensus in the state in favor of legal online poker. That’s likely to be more persuasive nationwide than a decision by a few judges.

The path to repeal isn’t likely to be easy, though. Supporters of repeal will argue that the law, which makes online poker a felony punishable by up to five years in prison, is far too harsh and could make criminals of casual gamers. They will also argue that the law has not been enforced – either precisely because it is so harsh, or because state residents don’t really want to punish card players.

Opponents of repeal could cite the words of the state Supreme Court in the Sept. 23 ruling. Although the court wasn’t called upon to rule on the desirability of the poker ban, only on its constitutionality, it seemed to go out of its way to explain why this ban is a good thing.

“Internet gambling introduces new ways to exacerbate  …  threats to health, welfare, safety, and morals,” the court wrote. “Gambling addicts and underage gamblers have greater accessibility to on-line 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 on-line gambling operations are not physically present in-state to be inspected for regulatory compliance.”

Supporters of repeal in Washington state will need to address this type of argument head-on. In the real world, online poker operators have already figured out a way to solve these problems. For example, the two leading online poker sites in the world are in fact already licensed and regulated and subject to strict oversight in their respective countries where they are licensed. Gambling commissions work hard to ensure that crime, fraud and cheating do not occur and to keep the players’ interests, as well as those of the operators, in mind.

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  • Douglas Lovitt says:

    The court’s statement contains many unsupported claims. What exactly are the “threats to one’s health, welfare, safety and morals”? I’m having a hard time coming up with concrete examples. With respect to morals, I have found that people with propper morals act accordingly in-person and online.

    The “in-person” aspect of regulating is a joke. Maybe I should call the IRS and insist that they be in-person when I complete my tax return. Regulations and systems can be put (and in some cases already are) in place to prevent the majority of underage players and problem gamblers.

    It is a little ignorant to state that just because these opperations are not “in-state” they will be more suspetible to organized crime and/or money laundering. Plenty of that goes on right here under their watchful eye!

    Absolutely inappropriate for the state to limit the online activities of all its people based on either the state’s fears of what could happen or the actions of underage players attempting to circumvent the age requirement. We see underage kids attempting to buy liquor (in-person by the way). Even the State admits that it can not prevent 100% of underage people from purchasing alcohol in its own state run stores! Maybe we should just make alcohol completely illegal! Oh yeah, that didn’t work either.

    Come on Olympia! Stop dictating to us and start listening to your people!

  • joetheinformed says:

    People who have no understanding of the game of poker are making decisions about the game and this is why it is being vilified so much. Saying it is a threat to one’s health, welfare, safety, and morals is ridiculous. Poker is a game of skill played by consenting adults who know the risks and rewards. It is more a social game than anything else and has given enjoyment to millions in this country. Why our state has decided to take such a draconian stance on it is beyond me. I feel the original law was created to help Indian Casinos, but why it is upheld is beyond me. I will just make one thing clear though, since the law was created I have not stepped one foot into an Indian Casino. I find it appalling they would lobby to take my rights away, so I will not give them any of my business. I just wish others would also stop patronizing them also in protest.

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About Ifrah Law

Crime in the Suites is authored by the Ifrah Law Firm, a Washington DC-based law firm specializing in the defense of government investigations and litigation. Our client base spans many regulated industries, particularly e-business, e-commerce, government contracts, gaming and healthcare.

Ifrah Law focuses on federal criminal defense, government contract defense and procurement, healthcare, and financial services litigation and fraud defense. Further, the firm's E-Commerce attorneys and internet marketing attorneys are leaders in internet advertising, data privacy, online fraud and abuse law, iGaming law.

The commentary and cases included in this blog are contributed by founding partner Jeff Ifrah, partners Michelle Cohen, David Deitch, and associates Rachel Hirsch, Jeff Hamlin, Steven Eichorn, Sarah Coffey, Nicole Kardell, Casselle Smith, and Griffin Finan. These posts are edited by Jeff Ifrah. We look forward to hearing your thoughts and comments!

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