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Washington State … Time to Join the 21st Century!

A meeting with state lawmakers

by Linda Johnson |  Published: May 06, 2011

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I recently accepted an invitation from the Poker Players Alliance to travel to Olympia, Washington, to meet with state lawmakers. The purpose of the trip was to lobby against the ridiculous law that makes playing online poker in the state of Washington a Class C felony.

Andy Bloch, Jan Fisher, and I served as hosts for the day. Our morning began with a breakfast meeting with approximately 30 Washington PPA members who had volunteered to help in the lobbying effort. PPA Executive Director John Pappas and PPA Director, Grassroots and External Affairs Drew Lesofski updated us with a PowerPoint presentation concerning facts that would aid us in our meetings with the legislators. I learned some interesting facts, such as:

• A 2010 poll of Washington state registered voters found that 79 percent disagree with the 2006 law that makes playing online poker a Class C felony.

• 54 percent of Washington state voters believe that online poker should be legal, licensed, regulated, and taxed, to help with state budget shortfalls.

• Washington is the only state that makes it a crime for its own citizens to play poker on their home computers, punishable by a $10,000 fine and/or five years in prison. That’s a similar punishment to what one would get if convicted of heroin possession or child pornography!

• Since the law went into effect in 2006, no one ever has been arrested for playing online poker in Washington. (So, why have the law if it isn’t going to be enforced?)

Pappas concluded the presentation by reinforcing the fact that poker is one of the great American pastimes and traditions. Poker has been enjoyed by presidents, generals, Supreme Court justices, members of Congress, state legislators, and average Americans for more than 150 years. Today, it is estimated that more than 10 million Americans play online poker.

With such a large group of citizen lobbyists, we were able to meet with approximately 45 state legislators. I personally had group appointments with seven lawmakers. Most of them were eager to hear what we had to say, and asked good questions. Their ears perked up when we told them how much revenue the state could earn by taxing and regulating poker. They also seemed to be concerned that Washington poker players don’t have a safe, regulated environment in which to play online poker.

I pointed out that if I lived in Washington, I would be very upset that I didn’t have the same right to play online poker that citizens of the other 49 states have. Two veterans accompanied me on one of my appointments, and expressed their beliefs that it’s really about personal freedoms. One said, “I fought for my country and I’m proud of that. I’m irritated now with the hypocrisy in our state that says it’s OK to walk down the street and play poker in a brick-and-mortar casino, but it’s not OK for me to play in my home! Many of my comrades were injured or paralyzed fighting for our rights, and they can’t leave their homes … how dare you tell them they can’t enjoy themselves by playing poker at home.” We left that particular meeting with a promise from that particular representative that he would be willing to sponsor a bill in the next legislative session to repeal the current law. In evaluating my sessions, I think that five of the seven agreed with us that the current law is silly, and were very interested in helping us with our mission to get it repealed, although the consensus was that it would have to wait until the next legislative session.

Two of my appointments were with legislators who didn’t have an open mind about the issue. The facts weren’t going to sway them away from their “feelings.” One started out by telling me that she wasn’t in favor of gambling because someone she knew had lost all of his money “betting the ponies.” I pointed out that she probably knew plenty of alcoholics, but that didn’t stop alcohol from being legal. I pointed out that her friend had not lost his money playing poker, and that it doesn’t make sense to have legal poker in Washington but make it illegal to play the same game online. We also told her about the studies in countries where online poker is legal that have shown no increase in compulsive gambling after online poker was legalized. Her reply was, “Washington is the Las Vegas of the Northwest. We have all the gambling we need.” I guess we were “drawing dead” with her before we even started.

After a full day of lobbying, it was time for some fun and games. Since it was St. Patrick’s Day, we had left invitations with the legislators to join us at 5:30 p.m. in a private residence for some Irish stew corned beef and lots of other goodies — plus some poker action. At least 15 politicians joined the rest of us, and, of course, several poker games broke out. Andy Bloch played a sit-and-go with some of them, and we were thrilled that he won, proving our argument that poker is a game of skill. ♠

Linda Johnson is a partner in Card Player Cruises. She is available to host poker events, seminars, and charity fundraisers. You can contact her at Linda@cardplayercruises.com.