Tuesday, July 11, 2006, 12:00 PM

New Online Gambling Laws From The State Of Washington and Washington, DC

Authored by: Jason Hicks
A law outlawing online gambling that critics say impinges upon free speech was passed in the state of Washington on June 7, 2006.

The new law, which was passed by an overwhelming majority in the legislature, says that anyone who "knowingly transmits or receives gambling information" through the Internet is guilty of a class C felony, which is punishable by up to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

The State of Washington Gambling Commission's website notes that enforcement of the law will focus on "higher level Internet gambling activities, such as gambling sites and service providers." However, the Commission cautions that although "there will not be an active campaign against regular players," such players run the risk of a felony conviction. The Commission plans to send the players a warning letter if their names appear once in an operator’s seized records. If a player’s name reappears, charges may be filed.

Some free speech proponents have criticized the law for being too broad becasue it might apply not only to gambling websites, but also to websites that provide links to gambling websites or write about gambling in a promotional manner. As one editorial in the Seattle Times pointed out, "the state's gone from trying to control gambling . . . to trying to control people speaking about gambling."

Others argue that the law is valid because linking to a gambling site can be interpreted as a form of advertising. David Skover, a professor of constitutional law at Seattle University, noted in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer that, "[t]here is neither federal nor state constitutional protection for advertising an illegal activity."

Rick Day, executive director of the Washington State Gambling Commission, stated that "telling people how to gamble online, where to do it, giving a link to it – that’s all obviously enabling something that’s illegal." He claims that publishing such information can be considered aiding and abetting. Separately, he was quoted in the Bellingham Herald as saying that "[a]ny party involved . . . could be guilty of a violation of state law." The scope of the Washington statute, however, is far from clear.

Additionally, the US House of Representatives passed a bill that purports to ban online gambling by amending the Wire Act. The bill would also make it illegal for financial institutions or intermediaries to process payments to offshore casinos through bettors' electronic funds, checks, debits and other e-transactions. It is unclear whether the Senate will address this legislation before the November elections. For more information, read this NY Times article.

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