Lawmakers In Washington State Talk Online Poker, But Action Unlikely

January 20, 2017
Lawmakers In Washington State Talk Online Poker, But Action Unlikely

Washington tepidly tossed its hat into the online gambling ring this week. The state with by far the most archaic online gambling laws in the country held a hearing to discuss online poker and daily fantasy sports.

On Wednesday, the Senate Commerce, Labor & Sports Committee held a public hearing/work session to discuss these two issues, among other things.

Here’s how it went.

Overview of the hearing

The bulk of the hearing focused on topics other than gaming. The poker and DFS discussion followed an overly detailed discussion on wine, beer and spirits in the state. This stood in stark contrast to how the committee handled gaming issues.

There was little in the way of meaningful discussion. Most of the witness testimony was cut short by the committee chair.

Washington State Gaming Commission Chairman Chris Stearns testified at the hearing. He told US Poker this was typical of work sessions. The harried pace is indicative of issues the legislature doesn’t plan on tackling.

Committee Chairman Michael Baumgartner confirmed Stearns’ thoughts on online gambling’s chances via Twitter the day after the hearing:

In addition to Stearns, witnesses included:

  • John Pappas, executive director, Poker Players Alliance (via Skype)
  • Brian Considine, staff attorney, Washington State Gaming Commission
  • Curtis Woodard, advocate for legal online poker
  • Rob McKenna, former state attorney general turned lobbyist for DraftKings and FanDuel

What did we learn?

The short answer is: not all that much.

Most of the testimony focused on a rather absurd 2006 law. That law made online poker and other forms of online gambling illegal in Washington. The mere act of playing online poker in the state of Washington is actually a Class C felony. It is punishable by up to five years in prison and/or a $50,000 fine.

Pappas noted that the penalty for playing online poker is similar to those for sex crimes. Or even a shade below the penalty for manslaughter:

However, Considine made it clear that while this is technically the case, the legal focus has always been on the companies offering online gambling and not on the players themselves. That being said, Considine did say the state has used people it caught playing online poker as informants, commandeering their accounts to build cases against companies.

We also learned that someone needs to bring lawmakers up to speed on the issue of online gambling before Washington becomes a legitimate contender to pass an online gambling bill.

Hearings of this sort are the first step in this process. The onus will now fall on advocates and lobbyists to make sure any lingering concerns harbored by lawmakers — be it problem gambling or cannibalization of land-based gaming — are addressed.

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The good news and the bad news

The good news, as Baumgartner noted, is online poker was discussed. The chair of the gatekeeper committee seems to have some interest in the topic.

The bad news is it looks like Washington is still at least a year away (more likely several) from being a legitimate contender to legalize online gambling, joining the ranks of New Jersey and Nevada.

For the remainder of 2017, continued progress in Washington will likely be measured by the introduction of a bill and perhaps another, more comprehensive hearing on the subject.

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