Politics & Government

UPDATED: State high court upholds Internet gambling ban

In a unanimous ruling issued this morning, the Washington state Supreme Court denied a challenge to the state ban on Internet gambling. Two lower state courts came to the same conclusion. (See update below on poker players vowing to continue their fight in the Legislature and courts.)

Justice Richard Sanders wrote the 9-0 opinion which is posted here. Seattle lawyer Lee Rousso, who the court said had played poker online, ad challenged the state law on grounds it violated a part of the federal commerce clause governing interstate business. Rousso claimed (as Sanders described it) that the state law put an impermissible burden on interstate and international commerce.

In the ruling's first paragraphs, Sanders says:

The question before this court is not whether Internet gambling, including playing poker on-line, should be illegal. That determination is reserved to the legislature, and the legislature addressed the issue by enacting and amending RCW 9.46.240, which criminalizes the knowing transmission and reception of gambling information by various means, including use of the Internet. Since sending and receiving gambling information is illegal, Internet gambling in the state of Washington is effectively banned.1 It is not the role of the judiciary to second-guess the wisdom of the legislature, which enacted this ban. The court has no authority to conduct its own balancing of the pros and cons stemming from banning, regulating, or openly permitting Internet gambling.

Sanders' ruling then goes into a more detailed analysis of what he called the "dormant commerce clause" and discusses other federal legislation including the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006 and the Wire Act of 1961. He found that Congress did not delegate regulation of interstate internet gambling.

Sanders also asked whether the state ban – RCW – discriminated "against interstate commerce in favor of in-state economic interests" and he found it did not. He wrote that the law "equally prohibits Internet gambling regardless of whether the person or entity hosting the game is located in Washington, another state, or another country."

Sanders also said the state also can apply different rules to different kinds of businesses. He rejected other claims that the ban favored in-state "brick and mortar" gambling, saying the ban affects all business' ability to transmit bets electronically (with the ban exempting horseracing, which Sanders' footnote says is not treated as gambling under the state statute and has different treatment under federal law).

You'll have to read the details yourself.

UPDATE on original 9:59 a.m. post: A group calling itself the Poker Players Alliance, which claims 20,000 members in Washington state, put out a news release in which it vowed not to give up its fight to legalize online gaming:

"We are extremely disappointed in the State Supreme Court's ruling given the clear evidence that the state legislature never sought to regulate Internet poker as it does in-state bricks and mortar card rooms and internet horse racing, but instead simply banned internet poker and, even worse, criminalized the players. This law is still a mistake, and we will continue to fight to have it overturned," said former U.S. Senator Alfonse D'Amato, Chairman of the PPA. In May, the PPA provided amicus testimony supporting Lee Rousso's case before the Supreme Court. More than 100 poker enthusiasts gathered on the steps of the Supreme Court to add their support and decry the state law. "Unfortunately, the court has upheld an unpopular prohibition. Poker players in this state need to make their voices heard. Now more than ever we need to rally together to fight this outrageous law. I hope the poker community will stand with me as I appeal this decision to the U.S. Supreme Court," said Lee Rousso."The one bright spot in the ruling is that the Court made it clear they weren't endorsing the law, but rather endorsing the right of the legislature to pass the law. That underscores what we’ve heard time and again – that this law is ridiculous. In fact, earlier this year, a poll found that 80 percent of Washington voters oppose the law," continued D'Amato."By no means is the fight over. The PPA will pursue other legal and legislative efforts to overturn this law and will continue to work with lawmakers in Washington State and Washington, D.C., to pass legislation to license and regulate online poker and protect the rights of poker players to enjoy the game they love wherever they chose to play it," concluded D'Amato.