Many in the Internet gambling industry are skeptical about the impact that the new gambling laws, which went into full effect this Tuesday, will have on the industry. However, the compliance deadline seems to have prompted many states into taking major leaps on the issue of Internet gambling; some good, some bad, most mixed.
Internet gambling is still not illegal. It is perhaps the most ubiquitous myth about online play, that it was ever illegal or that the new UIGEA regulations make online gambling a crime. As I explained in my research paper The Truth About Online Gambling, Online gambling is not a criminal offense. That is, unless states explicitly make it a criminal offense. So far, only one state has gone to that extreme: Washington.
Last week, the Poker Players Alliance staged a rally outside of the Washington State Supreme Court which was hearing arguments to strike down a state law that makes Internet poker a class c felony. That could get a player up to five years behind bars and a $10,000 fine. Lee Rousso, the Poker Players Alliance Washington director filed a suit declaring the law unconstitutional under the commerce clause.
“This law is not about the legislature protecting the state’s citizens, but rather about protecting special interests and tribal casinos from competition.” The state has legal card rooms and casinos.” said PPA Chairman Alfonse D’Amato.
In a random poll of 400 Washington state voters, they found 79% oppose the law making criminals of online poker players. It could take 6-9 months for the court to issue a ruling.
Lawmakers in Massachusetts made an attempt in April to criminalize online poker in a bill that, not surprisingly, simultaneously licensed 2 new casinos in the state. Luckily the language in the bill criminalizing online poker was taken out.
Meanwhile, California lawmakers voted this week for a bill that legalizes online gambling in a very limited parameters, by allowing the state DOJ to award three licenses to California operators for 5 years each.
The effects of UIGEA have yet to be seen, but it is certainly forcing discussion of the issue. As always, players should be very careful not to jump at the first prospect of legalization on such a limited basis. Like the ugly girl at the prom who’ll dance with the first guy who asks, overly-eager online gamblers might end up getting their toes stepped on.