Representative Paul Harris of the state of Washington has proposed a new poker bill that has the power to decriminalize the act of playing online poker in Washington. The bill will also make the punishment for playing online poker lighter. The new bill was passed on Monday and Representative Harris hopes that the bill will soon be passed into law.
As of now, online gaming is a felony in the state of Washington and has been a felony for more than six years. If Harris’ bill is passed into law, the punishment for playing online poker will be transformed into “class 3 civil infraction.” If this happens, players caught playing online poker will have to pay a maximum fine of $50 and “statutory assessments.”
Harris’ bill will apply only to players who are playing online “solely for the defendant’s own enjoyment and not as part of an enterprise that derives income from operating an Internet website that transmits or receives gambling information.”
Online gaming was outlawed by legislators in Washington back in 2006. This made playing online poker a “class C felony” with a punishment of a fine of up to $10k and a prison term of up to five years. For this reason, several US friendly poker rooms prevented Washington players from signing up for real money poker play. Lee Rousso of the Poker Players Alliance (PPA) had filed a lawsuit challenging this law, in response to which the Supreme Court of Washington supported the law. According to industry analysts, the law was formed to protect Indian casinos in Washington.
Although Harris has not made any comment, his spokesperson said that he is now looking for co-sponsors for his bill and will fix a public hearing for the bill in a couple of weeks.
Online poker players in Washington are hopeful that the bill will create long-awaited changes in Washington, especially at a time when several US states are considering regulating and legalizing their online gambling industry. The events of Black Friday might have plunged the online poker community into gloom, but a DoJ re-interpretation of the Wire Act of 1961, which came a few months after Black Friday, stating that the Wire Act applies only to online sports betting and not to online poker, has acted as a silver lining to the cloud. Nevada and Delaware have already legalized online gaming and New Jersey is on the verge of doing so.