OLYMPIA – An Internet gambling service is an illegal bookmaking operation, the state Supreme Court ruled Thursday, despite claims by its operator that losers could refuse to pay without fear of having their kneecaps broken.
A unanimous court ruled against Betcha.com, an online wagering service that allowed participants to bet on just about anything from sporting events and political contests to “whether the moon would be full on a given night.” Participants set up accounts, determined how much they wanted to wager and Betcha. com, which charged fees for the activity, put the wagered amounts in an account frozen until 72 hours after the outcome.
The state Gambling Commission argued this was nothing more than an online version of bookmaking, which is illegal, and shut the service down in 2007. Betcha.com argued it wasn’t gambling because losers could “welsh” during that 72-hour period by refusing to pay. Their “trustworthiness” rating could suffer, making it harder to find people for future wagers, but there were no financial or physical reprisals.
“There’s no kneecaps at stake at Betcha.com, there’s no organized crime,” the company’s attorney George Telquist argued before the high court in May. If there’s no requirement to pay, it’s not gambling, and Betcha.com isn’t engaged in bookmaking, he said.
No, said the court. Bookmaking covers charging a fee for betting; “it does not require that the bet be honored or betting losses paid.” Betcha.com was engaged in bookmaking, professional gambling and transmitting gambling information, all banned by state law. It overturned an Appeals Court ruling that said otherwise, and reinstated a Thurston County Superior Court decision that shut down Betcha.com.