Long-running dispute over legality of an innovative concept
Nicholas Jenkins, the feisty lawyer and internet entrepreneur who has fought the Washington state government through the courts in defending his Betcha.com concept may have come to the end of the road.
This week the Washington Supreme Court ruled that the founder of Betcha.com’s unique proposition that betting was not gambling because losing players were not compelled to pay up still constituted illegal gambling.
In a unanimous ruling, the court defined Betcha.com as an illegal bookie because it arranged bets and took a percentage of the action as a fee, reports Associated Press.
The Bench said it did not have to decide whether optional payments by bettors would allow Betcha.com to technically escape the state's gambling restrictions.
"Under the statutory definition of bookmaking, it is immaterial whether or not Betcha users were engaged in gambling activity," Justice Tom Chambers wrote for the court.
With typical irreverence and humour, Jenkins wrote on his blog that the court's reasoning "didn't pass the giggle test."
"Never in a million years did I expect an opinion like this one," Jenkins wrote. "The court's error is so obvious that I wonder if a single justice even cracked our brief, let alone the Revised Code of Washington."
Washington state allows some forms of non-tribal gambling, including cardrooms that offer poker, blackjack and other games with relatively low stakes. Online gambling and bookmaking fees, however, are specifically outlawed in the state, with draconian criminal penalties for operators and players.
Betcha.com allowed users to wager on just about anything – from sporting events, to political contests, to whether the moon would be full on a given night. Users couldn't bet more than $1,000 at any one time.
Anyone wanting to offer or accept a bet had to transfer money into an account to back any losses, with the money held in escrow by Betcha.com. The company charged fees for offering or accepting bets, for proposing counteroffers, or for premium placement on the site.
Bettors would submit claims after the event in question, but the losing bettor always had 72 hours to opt out of paying the debt. Failing to pay bets could negatively affect a user's reputation on the site, which was tracked with a number representing their "honor rating."
The state Supreme Court ruling overturned an earlier state appeals court decision that Betcha.com hadn't engaged in gambling. Its decision affirmed the company possessed gambling records, a gross misdemeanor, and transmitted gambling information over the Internet, a lower-level felony.
The case is No. 82845-8, Internet Community and Entertainment Corp. v. State.