OLYMPIA — Washington state’s ban on Internet gambling doesn’t run afoul of the U.S. Constitution’s protections of interstate trade, the state Supreme Court unanimously ruled today.
The high court upheld a King County Superior Court ruling, later affirmed by the Court of Appeals, against Renton lawyer Lee Rousso and his challenge of the 2006 law that makes online gambling a felony.
Janelle Guthrie, a spokeswoman for the state attorney general’s office, said that while online gambling was always considered illegal in the state, the 2006 law clarified that the Internet was included in the state and federal ban against remote gambling. The law also increased the charge from a gross misdemeanor to a felony.
Washington state allows some forms of non-tribal gambling, including cardrooms that offer poker, blackjack and other games with relatively low stakes. Online gambling and bookmaking fees, however, are specifically outlawed in the state.
Rousso had argued that the law discriminates against Internet companies to protect local cardrooms and casinos.
But Justice Richard Sanders wrote that didn’t matter, because the question was “how the effects of the ban are imposed on in-state and out-of-state entities, not what the effect is on those entities’ revenue.”
“The ban on Internet gambling has the same effect on all entities, regardless of origin: a ban on the transfer of gambling information via the Internet,” he wrote.
Sanders also wrote there was no direct discriminatory effect on interstate commerce, because the law “prohibits Internet gambling evenhandedly, regardless of whether the company running the web site is located in or outside the state of Washington.”
Rousso said he disagreed with the court’s interpretation of the commerce clause.
“You need to look at economic discrimination, as opposed to a strict regulatory discrimination,” he said.
Sanders wrote that the state has broad power in protecting citizens’ health, welfare, safety and morals, and cited concerns over “ties to organized crime, money laundering, gambling addiction, underage gambling, and other societal ills.”
“The ban on Internet gambling is a public policy balance that effectively promotes that interest,” he wrote. “A reasonable person may argue the legislature can balance concerns for personal freedom and choice, state finance, and the protection of Washington citizens in a “better” way — but he or she must do so to the legislature.”
Rousso said he would appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, and he said he was also considering filing an additional action in federal court.
“I think this is an important issue of constitutional law,” he said.