Notorious for having some of the toughest anti-Internet gambling laws in the United States, but at the same time an active promoter of land gambling expansion, the state of Washington presents a confusing moral conundrum to both players and industry observers. This week News Tribune writer Peter Callaghan gave the state policies an insightful and incisive examination and came to the conclusion that the state and its legislators are just plain messed up.
Gamble on your PC in the privacy of your own home in Washington state, and you risk suffering the same tough Class C felony punishments reserved for real criminals like child molesters, yet throughout the state there are widespread tribal and other land gambling establishments encouraged by the state lawmakers and in many cases contributing to the political campaigns of those same legislators.
Callaghan appropriately starts his article at the beginning, when the first gambling liberalisation laws were passed back in 1973 within the framework of the following lofty ideals:
“It is hereby declared to be the policy of the Legislature, recognizing the close relationship between professional gambling and organized crime, to restrain all persons from seeking profit from professional gambling activities in this state.”
Callaghan writes that to that end, the state intended “to restrain all persons from patronizing such professional gambling activities; to safeguard the public against the evils induced by common gamblers and common gambling houses engaged in professional gambling.”
In those early days gambling was a relatively innocent affair, with approval granted for charitable bingo and “Reno nights” for nonprofit groups as well as punchboards, pull tabs and card rooms that were only to stimulate food and drink sales in bars and taverns.
"Otherwise, gambling was evil," explains Callaghan. "That’s why the gambling act is in the criminal code, right between “Frauds and Swindles” and “Glue Sniffing.”
His article goes on to relate the fast expansion of land gambling in the state, from a state lottery in 1982 to full blown land casinos in the ‘nineties and, courtesy of federal government imprimaturs, a plethora of tribal casinos.
Callaghan observes with accuracy that from a land gambling perspective, Washington is as close to a wide-open gambling state as you can get without declaring the state wide open.
"Politicians say they want to stop expansions and then approve more commercial gambling and acquiesce to larger and more numerous tribal casinos," Callaghan writes. "The only gambling that’s disappearing is charitable gambling."
The article goes on to examine the "professional gambling" clause in contrast to Washington court decisions for and against recent cases such as Lee Rousso's failed appeal on poker and the just-too-late appeal court decision exonerating Betcha.com – now dead following ill-advised official action.
Callaghan concludes: "So we don’t allow professional gambling but get around it by declaring that stuff that looks and smells like professional gambling really isn’t. And since it isn’t, it’s OK for residents to patronize and profit from actual casinos, but it’s illegal for them to patronize and profit from virtual casinos – at least the ones that make you pay when you lose.
"And that, as much as anything else, illustrates why our state gambling policy is as messed up as it is."