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Washington State Law Change Makes Online Poker Players Felons

Law Goes into Effect Next Wednesday

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Starting June 7, playing poker online in the state of Washington is a Class C felony. Players can be fined $10,000 or sentenced to up to five years in prison, or both, thanks to a new law that is designed to curb online gambling in the state.

Governor Christine Gregoire signed the bill into law, which was unanimously approved by the state Senate, in late March. Five house members voted against the bill.

The bill covers all forms of online wagering, including poker.

"The legislators have made it very clear that that is not allowed," said Susan Arland, rule coordinator and press contact for Washington State's Gambling Commission.

Although the law puts Washington State's online poker players in the same category as child pornographers, repeat drunk drivers, drug dealers, and identity thieves, Arland acknowledged it's doubtful state officials will try to prosecute online poker players.

"We're just letting people know that under Washington law it's illegal to gamble on the Internet," she said. "The law really didn't change, it just clarifies it."

But that doesn't mean online poker players will never be prosecuted in Washington State. Washington is one of the states involved in what Arland called a "multi-state Internet gambling task force." The task force includes Indiana, California, Missouri, Louisiana, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands, among others, as members.

One of the reasons the task force was formed about a year and a half ago was to figure out how online gambling players can be prosecuted.

Although Arland said that the main focus of Washington's Gambling Commission was to prosecute people running online sites in her state, ways to prosecute players is "something that's being looked into now" by both the state and the multi-state Internet gambling task force.

"Not to say we wouldn't (prosecute players), but the focus wouldn't be on an individual player," Arland says.

Washington State doesn't have an antigambling stance. Within its borders are 24 tribal casinos and 94 "house bank" cardrooms, which can legally spread poker and blackjack.

The latest Washington State Gambling Commission's newsletter, called "Focus on Gambling," contains a poster that is meant to be hung in cardrooms across the state to warn players about the state's new rule. It reads:

"INTERNET GAMBLING is ILLEGAL. It is a FELONY Crime. You could go to PRISON, pay a FINE, or BOTH. You COULD LOSE YOUR GAMBLING license. KNOW THE LAW."

Recently, the Federal House of Representatives Judiciary Committee moved forward an anti-Internet gambling bill. Click here to read about it. Also, click here for a detailed explanation of the Federal bill by Allyn Jaffrey Shulman, Card Player Magazine's legal expert.