Legal Experts Think Washington’s New Law Too Broad

by Lou on June 27, 2006

I’ve Asked this Question Since the Day the Law Was Passed
I’ve been asking this question since the Washington State Gambling Commission first leaned on a reporter from the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, suggesting that he tell his paper not to carry Daniel Negreanu’s column because it violates the new Washington law against online gaming. Now some legal experts have chimed in, saying the law is probably too broad to survive a court challenge.

Anyone who “knowingly transmits or receives gambling information” using the Internet is guilty of a Class C felony, punishable by up to five years in prison according to the law that took effect on June 7.

But First Amendment Experts Think the Law Won’t Hold Up….
“Providing a hypertext link does not seem to me to aid and abet gambling,” said Michael Overing, a Los Angeles lawyer specializing in First Amendment issues.

And So Do Specialists in Internet Law
Craig Baker, a Seattle attorney specializing in Internet issues, said considerable latitude exists for what people can put on their web sites, with certain exceptions, such urging violence, obscenity and threats to national security. “The basic rule is that there’s no liability for placing a link on a Web site,” he said. “Traditionally, there is great deference paid toward free speech.”

Critics of the new law said the state needs a strong reason and specific law to limit free speech, even in cyberspace.

But Washington State Is Going to Enforce the law
Despite the law’s draconian nature, Rick Day, Director of the Washington State Gambling Commission, keps saying that the state isn’t out to get online poker players who blog about playing or post tips on gaming. But he believes that links or references to online gambling are an issue.

“What you have to look at is whether that is a solicitation or inducement for people to engage in something that’s illegal,” Day said, adding that the state will deal with Web sites on a case by case basis and is more likely to go after big corporations that link to gambling sites than “a small local entrepreneur.”

Will the Law Survive a First Amendment Challenge?
Washington’s Attorney General’s believes any Constitution-based action against the new laws are defensible. Janelle Guthrie, spokeswoman for the state Attorney General’s Office was quoted as saying, “We don’t believe these laws are vague, and if they were challenged as unconstitutional, we would defend them.” State Sen. Margarita Prentice, who sponsored the Internet gambling bill, said “… if it’s illegal, it’s illegal. We were defending our state, and we cannot have illegal gambling.”

The Law’s Author, State Senator Margarita Prentice Finally Speaks. But Does It Make Any Sense?
This is the same Margarita Prentice who was unwilling to speak to the media about the law she authored for some time now, only to come up with that gem of legal reasoning. I’m just wondering whether Ms. Prentice made law review with legal reasoning and statements as compelling and insightful as “… if it’s illegal, it’s illegal.”

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