Washington State Online Poker and DFS Bills Introduced

Posted on: January 13, 2016, 04:55h. 

Last updated on: January 13, 2016, 04:55h.

Washington online poker and DFS bills
Representative Sherry Appleton has resurrected her online poker bill, which failed to gain traction last year. (Image: youtube.com)

Washington State’s online poker and daily fantasy sports (DFS) bills have been resurrected today, on the very first day of the state’s legislative session, January 13th. The two bills are identical to legislation introduced a year ago that failed to gain traction in the legislature.   

Representatives Sherry Appleton’s and Vincent Buys’ HB1114 seeks to authorize and regulate real-money online poker in a state that was one of the first to specifically ban online gaming.

In fact, Washington is the only state where merely playing online poker could, at least theoretically, get you locked up.  

Lawmakers prohibited online gaming in 2006 in the wake of the passage of the federal Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA), and made it a Class C felony.

Section 9.46.240 of the state’s gambling law declares that anyone who “knowingly transmits or receives gambling information by telephone, telegraph, radio, semaphore, the Internet, a telecommunications transmission system, or similar means” is violating the law.

Grassroots Push

This means that the simple act of playing online poker could come with a prison sentence of up to five years and a $10,000 fine, although no one has ever been prosecuted under this law, we should point out.

Nevertheless, many see the law as draconian. Last year’s legislative push began at a grassroots level, spearheaded by the Washington Internet Poker Initiative, a group of poker players desperate to overturn the prohibition.

“[Live] poker has long been an authorized activity in Washington state, and with the internet as a technological aid, poker can be conducted in a virtual environment and played from the privacy of one’s own computer or mobile device,” states the bill.

HB1114 is pushing for the authorization of interstate compacts for player pool sharing and contains no “bad actor” clause that could stymie a PokerStars entry should the game be legalized for online players.

Attitude to Fantasy Sports May Be Thawing

Meanwhile, the DFS bill, HB1301, seeks to bypass the online gambling prohibition by having DFS classified as games of skill rather than luck, mirroring legislation successfully passed last year in Kansas.

It’s sponsored by seven state representatives, including Eric Pettigrew, Brandon Vick, as well as Buys.

Washington remains the only state ever to prosecute a fantasy sports site, although New York has ambitions to follow suit. In 2011, officials shut down Fantasy Thunder, a Washington-based fantasy NASCAR site that had been in operation for around five years.

There are indications, though, that the state’s attitude to fantasy sports may be thawing.  The Washington State Gambling Commission (WSGC) recently completed a comprehensive 41-page study of daily fantasy sports, which was debated in the legislature.

“The legislature will be the one to decide who would license and regulate DFS if it is legalized,” said Susan Newer of the WSGC. “If they give that authority to [us], we would do it.”