Five Years in Prison for Gambling Online in Washington State

by Lou on June 1, 2006

Beginning June 7, playing poker or other Internet wagering will be a Class C felony in the State of Washington. While individual online gamblers are unlikely to be targeted for arrest, penalties are harsh, and can be as high as five years in prison and a $10,000 fine. The bill passed unanimously in the State Senate with only five dissenting votes noted in the House. Free or “play money” online poker games are legal, and will not be affected by the new law.

State Sen. Margarita Prentice, (D-Renton), who sponsored the legislation, and Gambling Commission Director Rick Day said the law is needed to protect the gamblers. Prentice and Day also claim that online poker invites organized crime and money laundering, and it’s easier for dishonest players to collude against unsuspecting opponents.

Day’s priority is to go after “. . . national and international promoters or operators based in Washington, not individual gamblers.” Although no one was arrested, Gambling Commission agents visited the homes of several gamblers — fewer than half a dozen, according to Day — about a year ago to warn them that online betting was illegal.

Although this law is ill-advised, and the penalties verge on draconian, it’s difficult to see how the State of Washington could trace individual gamblers, even if they had the resources to do so. Nevertheless, it is the law in Washington, and forewarned is forearmed — even when it’s a silly, onerous, sumptuary law that’s difficult to enforce, and prohibits adults from personal behavior that harms no one.

If you’re an online gambler, or even if you’re not, but you believe that nanny-state legislation designed to protect us from ourselves diminishes the freedom of everyone, you know what to do: Vote in the next election and then sit back and play some poker.

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