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Washington State Eyes Legalizing Online Poker

Despite Prohibition On I-Poker Play, Lawmakers Ponder Industry


Even though the state of Washington has passed legislation that made playing online poker a crime punishable by jail (the only U.S. state to do so), in 2015 lawmakers there are going to look at getting rid of the draconian rules and actually legalizing the activity.

It would be a historic reversal of such an extreme position.

Late last week, House Bill 1114 was introduced into the legislature by Rep. Sherry Appleton, a Democrat. Right now, people in Washington state can play poker in card rooms and tribal casinos that have been OK’ed by the state for running the games.

According to PokerAtlas, there are 74 brick-and-mortar poker rooms in Washington. Though, the state is harsh on card games in other contexts, as evident by state regulators last year shutting down a 25-year-old penny-ante pinochle game at a senior center in the city of Snohomish.

Washington has an interesting approach to gambling, but HB 1114 might help correct that. HB 1114 would only authorize poker for online real-money play.

A proposed tax structure has yet to be fleshed out.

“The legislature finds that the internet is an integral tool in the everyday lives of Washingtonians,” the bill reads. “Commerce, communication, and entertainment are just some of the areas in which this technological aid thrives. 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.”

According to the measure, despite the criminality of online poker play in Washington state (no one has ever been convicted of a crime for playing online poker there, fortunately), playing cards on the web via offshore sites has remained popular among residents.

“Despite a lack of regulation due to prohibition, playing poker over the internet remains popular with Washington state players,” the bill added. “To better protect the people of Washington from potential danger from, and to maintain oversight of the systems used to carry out internet poker, the legislature finds it to be in the interest of the people to establish a regulatory framework by which entities, as authorized by the Washington state gambling commission or a tribal regulator, may offer poker games to players within Washington state over the internet.”

Currently, three states in the country—Nevada, New Jersey and Delaware—have state-sanctioned online poker industries, and all three have experienced lower-than-anticipated revenues from the activity. States are going to need to partner up to create the liquidity needed for online poker. The proposed bill in Washington addresses this topic.

“Where feasible, the governor may enter into multistate agreements allowing for shared player liquidity across common platforms,” the bill says.

California is also looking to legalize online poker in 2015, though there’s a lack of a compromise between competing gambling interests. It’s no sure bet it will happen this year.

Other states in the mix for being next to legalize online poker are Illinois, New York and Pennsylvania, though none of them are as likely as California, according to industry experts.