OLYMPIA – The Washington Supreme Court was asked to decide Thursday whether Internet poker is merely a 21st Century twist on a friendly game played at the kitchen table or “the crack cocaine of gambling.”
Online gambling is illegal in Washington, and should remain that way, assistant attorney general Jerry Ackerman said, because it can’t be regulated and monitored like casino gambling. Internet sites can’t prevent minors from playing, or cut off compulsive gamblers, he said.
But Lee Rousso, who is challenging the law, said the ban is “illegally protectionist” because it helps local gambling operations by banning out-of-state or out-of-country operations. Internet gambling sites are regulated, just not by the state, he said.
The justices seemed skeptical of the legal distinction the state makes between games played in a casino or licensed card room, and on the Internet.
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“It’s the exact same card game,” Thomas Goldstein, an attorney for Poker Players Alliance, replied. The state can’t ban on-line shoe sales to protect in-state shoe stores, but that’s what it does with card games. “This case is about interstate commerce; it is not about gaming.”
It’s not the same game, said Ackerman, but a video form in which people sitting anonymously in their homes can lose more money, faster. “Internet gambling is the crack cocaine of gambling because it makes it so easy.”
But Justice Gerry Alexander said the state already allows many forms of gambling “almost any time you step out of your house,” and the state’s concerns about the speed and ease of Internet gambling may be more of what he called a generational thing.
“The argument could be made about e-mail…we should go with the U.S. mail and take our time, writing letters,” Alexander said The Supreme Court doubled down on gambling cases Thursday, also hearing the appeal of a case that questions whether an online betting service that holds the money for a fee and pays the winners of bets is really an illegal bookmaking operation. George Telquist, an attorney for Betcha.com, said it isn’t because losers can “welsh” on the bet and get their money back without fear of any reprisal worse than being put on the site’s “dishonor roll.”
“There’s no kneecaps at stake at Betcha.com, there’s no organized crime,” Telquist said.
But Ackerman said welshing happens in all types of gambling, and just because the debts can’t be enforced doesn’t make them legal.
After the hearings, about 75 members of the alliance, many wearing red T-shirts proclaiming “Poker is not a crime” gathered on the nearby Capitol steps and insisted they had a right, in the words of alliance chairman and former U.S. Sen. Al D’Amato, to “shuffle up and deal.” The law against on-line poker playing was “contemptible,” he said, and designed to protect tribal casinos.
Phil Gordon of Newport, Wash., a professional poker player, said the state has no business regulating Internet gambling: “What I do on my own computer from my own living room is my own business.”
Laura Bangerter of Puyallup brought her daughters, ages 3 and 1, to the rally in a stroller. She said she doesn’t play, but her husband, a high school teacher, does and wins enough that she can stay home with the children.