Washington State Online Poker Law
Washington State has one of the toughest online poker laws in the county. A law was approved in 2006 that criminalizes online poker players, so playing online poker is officially illegal in Washington. The law was challenged, but in 2012 a judge ruled that it can stand.
Several attempts to can the law have failed, even though the state senator who pushed the anti-online poker player law through, Democrat Margarita Prentice, has retired. Don’t assume Prentice was some anti-gambling nutso hell-bent on stopping gambling.
Prentice was a mouthpiece for the 39 Indian casinos that are located within Washington State’s borders. She fought against any type of gambling expansion that may have threatened the casino’s bottom line. In 2006, she set her sights on online poker and blasted it out of the sky with full photons lasers.
As a Class C felony, her law puts online poker players in the same category as child rapists.
But a group of players are fighting back. Washington online poker player Curtis Woodard has begun the process to get a voter-initialized bill that would legalize, tax, regulate, and define an online poker industry. Another initiative is also submitted, which would wipe Prentice’s bill away.
Woodward, with the help of Washington State online poker fans, must collect 246,372 signatures by the end of December 2013. If enough signatures are collected, state senators must decide whether to vote on the bills or decline, which would put it on the ballot for voter referendum in November 2014.
This grassroots movement might actually have enough momentum to work. Most likely it will fall short of the necessary signatures, but look for them to try again. If it does work out, it would completely remove the powerful Indian casino lobby from the equation.
It’s seriously a huge mystery as to why the Indian casinos aren’t backing the initiative with all of their weight. The initiative calls for the online poker rooms to have a brick-and-mortar presence and generally gives existing casinos and card rooms major advantages.
Tribal casinos make up more than $2.1 billion of Washington State’s $2.6 billion gambling industry, which includes dozens of card rooms. With the likelihood that the voter initiative will not have enough signatures to get it on the legislative calendar for 2014, the Indian casinos will mostly likely begin to push for online poker.
The most a poker room made in Washington in 2012 was about $2 million. Almost half of the card rooms actually reported losses on the year. Again, why the card rooms and casinos aren’t backing the online poker voter initiative will remain a mystery.
When Can I Play Online Poker in Washington State?
If, miraculously, the online poker voter initiative passes, the cards will fly through the digital ether in 2015. Most likely, look for the Indian casinos to start applying pressure for at least online poker legalization in 2014, with an actual bill getting submitted in 2015. If all goes optimistically well, late 2016 will see the first online poker rooms in Washington State.