Politics & Government

Court takes online betting service offline

OLYMPIA - All bets are off at Betcha.com, a Seattle-based online bookmaker that couldn't skirt the state's gambling laws by making it optional for losing bettors to pay off wagers.

In a unanimous ruling Thursday, the Washington state Supreme Court said Betcha.com qualified as an illegal bookie because it arranged bets and took a percentage of the action as a fee.

Since that definition of professional gambling fits the company’s activities, justices said they didn’t have to decide whether optional payments by bettors would allow Betcha.com to technically escape the state’s gambling restrictions.

“Under the statutory definition of bookmaking, it is immaterial whether or not Betcha users were engaged in gambling activity,” Justice Tom Chambers wrote.

Betcha.com founder Nicholas Jenkins didn’t immediately respond to messages seeking comment. On the website, which now displays only a message about the legal case, Jenkins had previously written that his Supreme Court hearing “was an unmitigated disaster.”

Washington state allows some forms of non-tribal gambling, including cardrooms that offer poker, blackjack and other games with relatively low stakes. Online gambling and bookmaking fees, however, are specifically outlawed in the state. Internet gambling also is illegal on the federal level.

Betcha.com allowed users to wager on just about anything, according to the court ruling — “from sporting events, to political contests, to whether the moon would be full on a given night.” Users couldn’t bet more than $1,000 at any one time.

Anyone wanting to offer or accept a bet had to transfer money into an account to back any losses, with the money held in escrow by Betcha.com. The company charged fees for offering or accepting bets, for proposing counteroffers, or for premium placement on the site.

Bettors would submit claims after the event in question, but the losing bettor always had 72 hours to opt out of paying the debt. Failing to pay bets could negatively affect a user’s reputation on the site, which was tracked with a number representing their “honor rating.”

The state Supreme Court ruling overturned an earlier state appeals court decision that Betcha.com hadn’t engaged in gambling.

Along with finding that Betcha.com had engaged in illegal professional gambling, the justices affirmed the company possessed gambling records, a gross misdemeanor, and transmitted gambling information over the Internet, a lower-level felony.