Friday, October 01, 2010

Washington Dealt Out

Washington Dealt OutYou probably heard that as of yesterday, PokerStars is now prohibiting players in the state of Washington from playing for real money at the site.

To be specific, you cannot play at Stars if you are currently a resident of Washington, nor can you play on the site if you are visiting Washington. In fact, current residents can’t even go outside of the state and play either, as their accounts will remain blocked from real money play as long as they have Washington addresses.

The news came quite abruptly -- without any real forewarning -- prompted, it appears, by the Washington state Supreme Court’s recent ruling upholding the state’s law against online gambling. That ruling came a little over a week ago. The law had been challenged as violating a federal commerce clause regarding interstate business, but it looks like the state’s Supreme Court wasn’t swayed by that argument, and thus decided not to fiddle with the state legislature’s earlier decision to make online gambling illegal (back in 2006, I think).

While Washington-based players scramble to figure out what to do next, many are speculating both about why PokerStars decided to pull the plug once and for all on Washington, as well as what might happen next.

Some are suggesting that PokerStars’ decision to block Washington customers -- rather than merely to recommend they consult applicable state and local laws before playing -- is connected to Barney Frank’s proposed bill, the Internet Gambling Regulation, Consumer Protection, and Enforcement Act (H.R. 2267), which was passed by the House Financial Services Committee which Frank chairs and still awaits consideration by the full House.

If you recall, that bill, designed to create a mechanism by which to license and regulate online gambling in the U.S., had a number of amendments added to it by the House Financial Services committee, including a couple concerning “bad actors” or sites that would be denied licenses to operate in the U.S. going forward thanks to their having failed to comply with federal and/or state gambling laws prior to the new bill being passed. (Click here for a rundown on H.R. 2267 and all of those amendments.)

PokerStars has already said it doesn’t feel as though it should fall into that “bad actors” category, stating that in its view -- and that of the site’s legal counsel -- those amendments would not “adversely affect the availability of a license for a respected operator such as PokerStars” whose “activities in the US are and at all times have been lawful.”

Thus does blocking Washington state’s residents appear to some as fitting with the strategy to remain lawful and thus available to receive a license should H.R. 2267 ever become law.

Others wonder what this might mean moving forward.

Those folks are wondering about things like states “opting out” of the new law, should it pass. Or whether this decision might mean that if it were to happen down the road that PokerStars was not granted a license to operate in the U.S., it would not try to do so anyway. Or what other U.S.-facing sites (like Full Tilt Poker, especially) will be doing with regard to Washington. Among other concerns.

As with most things related to online poker/gambling and the law, I can’t claim to have any real idea where we’re headed. The news about Washington clearly isn’t good, though, whatever it may indicate.

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