Curtis Woodard Starts Online Poker Initiatives in Washington State
News today from the Northwest, where Washington State resident and poker player Curtis Woodard and a number of like-minded players and supporters have submitted a pair of poker-themed voter initiatives for regulatory approval, with the aim of beginning signature drives later this spring and getting the measures onto the November 2014 general ballot.
The first measure is a brief ballot initiative designed to reverse the reach of a noxious 2006 law funded by the state’s tribal casinos and championed by since-ousted state Rep. Margarita Prentice, which made the playing of online poker a felony. Washington is the only state with such a law on the books, even though authorities have publicly stated they don’t plan on arresting anyone under the statute, probably for fear of a legal challenge. The group’s thus-titled “Internet Poker Player Decriminalization Act” (IPPDA 2014) reads as follows:
An act relating to the elimination of penalties against persons participating as a “player” in poker games played over the internet from personal computers and/or mobile devices.
BE IT ENACTED BY THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF WASHINGTON
Sec. 1. RCW 9.46.240 and 2006 c 290 s 2 are each amended to read as follows:
(1) “Whoever knowingly transmits or receives gambling information by telephone, telegraph, radio, semaphore, the internet, a telecommunications transmission system, or similar means, or knowingly installs or maintains equipment for the transmission or receipt of gambling information, other than a person described in subsection (2) of this section, is guilty of a class C felony subject the the penalty set forth in RCW 9a.20.021. However, this section shall not apply to such information transmitted or received or equipment installed or maintained relating to activities authorized by this chapter or to any act or acts in furtherance thereof when conducted in compliance with the provisions of this chapter and in accordance with the rules adopted under this chapter.”
(2) “Notwithstanding any other provision of this section, persons may knowingly transmit or receive gambling information over the internet and may knowingly install or maintain equipment for the transmission or receipt of gambling information over the internet, when acting solely as a player in any game over the internet where the wagering is only between two or more players and no person or enterprise that derives income from operating an internet web site that transmits or receives gambling information benefits directly from the outcome of the game.
For purposes of this subsection, “player” means a natural person who participates in an internet game and does not derive income from operating an internet web site that transmits or receives gambling information for that game.”
The second and somewhat longer initiative proposed by Woodard and his fellow players is the companion “Washington State Internet Poker Act” (WISPA 2014), which seeks to formally authorize and regulate online poker within the state, and includes amendments to the state’s existing gambling code in case the other measure should falter along the way.
Woodard’s group expects to have final versions of the two ballot initiatives resubmitted in April, which when once approved would lead to the next — and by far the largest — stage of the process, a massive signature drive.
According to Woodard, roughly 300,000 signatures will be needed for each of the petitions to get them onto the ballot, a daunting task by any measure. The group will have 39 weeks to garner signatures, with the massive chore of generating public support among the largest hurdles Woodard’s group faces.
Among those who won’t be supporting Woodard and his group’s efforts are the Poker Players Alliance. PPA officials have butted heads with Woodard in several discussion threads in the “Poker Legislation” subforum of the 2+2 site, with each side dismissing the other’s preferred plan of attack.
Despite its claims to be a grass-roots organization, the PPA focuses on working from the inside of the legislative process, and was on board for a recent proposal by Washington state Rep. Paul Harris to decriminalize online poker which would have changed the penalty for playing from a felony to a $50 civil forfeiture. Harris’s efforts, however, fell apart late last month, which served as further impetus for Woodard’s group.
Woodard’s group will be approaching tribal interests as well in an effort to get them to reverse their previous stance, now that state-by-state pushes for regulated iPoker are appearing all over the country. Woodard’s hope is for a groundswell of public support, generating renewed legislative interest even if his group falls short of their stated goals.
In case the group does get their 300,000 signatures, then one of three scenarios could occur. According to Woodard, the matter would go to the Washington legislature some time in 2014. Legislatures could adopt the measure directly, making it law; they could take no action, meaning it would go on to the November 2014 general ballot; or they could propose an alternate measure, which would then go to the voters to decide.
Woodard’s group seeks more volunteers for signature gathering and petition drives, as well as monetary donations to help defray petition expenses. The group will soon be launching a website at waipokernow.com, with Woodard himself posting on related topics on Twitter (@OlympiaChange) and on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/WashingtonOnlinePokerInitiative)