HB 1114 Seeks to Authorize Washington State Online Poker

The state of Washington’s poker players have new hope to draw attention to their plight as the only US state where the -playing- of online poker is considered a felony, following the introduction of an activity-authorizing measure by State Rep. Sherry Appleton.

Appleton, a Poulsbo Democrat, has prefiled her HB 1114 bill, authorizing Washington State online poker, for consideration during the state’s 2015-16 legislative session.  The bill has not yet been assigned to a committee or come up for hearings or discussion.

washingtonAppleton is one of an increasing number of Washington state legislators to appreciate the outlandish nature of the anti-online poker bill enacted by her state back in 2006, when a one-term State Senator, Margarita Prentice, was able to jam through a bill criminalizing online poker with the support of considerable lobbying money from the state’s tribal casino operations.

The current anti-online poker law in Washington State, which has been on the books since June of 2006 and would be nullified should Appleton’s HB 1114 be passed, declared playing poker from one’s own personal computer a Class C felony punishable by up to five years in prison and a $5,000 fine.  The Class C felony designation and penalty is on a par with such crimes as child molestation and has been seen as so ludicrous by state authorities and prosecutors that they have declined to bring even a single charge under the law, despite open evidence of thousands of Washington State players participating daily on international sites.

The original misguided attitude of the tribes backing the Prentice bill was that outlawing online poker would thus drive Washington’s poker-playing consumers to tribal casinos, despite growing market evidence that the two markets served separate populations.  Only after years of seeing Washington poker rooms show no appreciable growth have the state’s tribes now begun to understand that the online-poker market is ripe for cultivation and profit, rather than banning.

Rep. Appleton’s new HB 1114 is the latest such effort seeking a reversal of the onerous 2006 law, which has been attacked on several fronts in recent years but still remains in effect.  HB 1114 would allow either the Washington State Gambling Commission or the state’s various tribal authorities to independently establish a framework for providing the game to the state’s players.

Among the provisions present in the pre-filed form of HB 1114:

  • Minimum player age of 21
  • Physical presence in state required to play for real money (accounts can be created from anywhere)
  • Intrastate action to begin; but
  • Governor receives authorization to make interstate player-pooling compacts with other licensed jurisdictions;
  • Both tribal entities and state-licensed corporations would be eligible for online gaming licenses upon application and regulatory approval/review;
  • Applicants must have previously offered poker on their live gambling premises for at least two years.

The introductory version of Appleton’s HB 1114 provides that rolling one-year permits would be provided to successful applicants, subject to ongoing review by state and tribal regulators.  Licensees must also agree to be bonded for an amount not less than the total amount of player balances on deposit at any given time.

The bill also includes several layers of player-protection provisions, including proposed mandatory gambling hotline references reminding online players of the problems of online gambling.  The licensed sites themselves would be required to display a pop-up or similar process requiring active player approval to proceed with logging on to a given site.  The proposed message would require players to actively affirm reading a message that “Participation in gambling activity may result in pathological gambling behavior causing emotional and/or financial harm.”

Affiliates and other advertisers would be required to display similar warning text on their sites and messages, with all of the messages including the phone number of Washington State’s 1-800 hotline for problem gamblers.

According to local reports, Appleton’s bill was drafted with the assistance of Curtis Woodard‘s WA iPoker Initiative, a pro-online poker group which has sought for years to overturn the 2006 felony law.  Previous efforts from Woodard’s group have even included a voter initiative, though the group failed to garner enough of the hundreds of thousands of signatures needed prior to a procedural deadline to get their repeal measure onto a statewide ballot.

In a lengthy statement acknowledging and explaining the bill, WAIPoker’s Woodard described the bill as a “solution [that] should please everyone.”  Woodard also touted HB 1114 as “a model for other states to follow, as it also opens the door for easy interstate cooperation and the ability to share player liquidity on common platforms across state lines.”

Woodard added this take on HB 1114, in part:

My view of the bill:

This bill would allow the big operators, like PartyPoker, 888, and Pokerstars, to apply for license to operate an internet poker network within the State of Washington. There will be a significant fee, as the cost of ipoker regulation will be borne by that fee. Suitability will be determined by the Commission. The Commission will establish rules as needed to implement internet poker networks. As networks, they will compete with each other to offer ‘skins’ to qualified card rooms and/or Tribal casinos.

Experienced licensed card rooms and Tribal casinos currently operating Class II poker games will be able to operate ‘skins’ on one of the licensed networks. Non-tribal card rooms will apply for an additional license to operate an online poker room, and the Commission will establish suitability. Tribal casinos can operate skins as an extension of their Class II games.


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