Friday, May 05, 2006

Will I be a felon next month?

I don't know how I missed it, but the Washington state legislature passed Substitute Senate Bill 6613 (.pdf) in March, and the governor signed it. (See also, bill history.) What's it do? In relevant part, it amends RCW 9.46.240 to read:
Whoever knowingly transmits or receives gambling information by ... the internet... shall be guilty of a class C felony...

Sounds bad. I'll be as bad as a sex offender. Or an armed thief. But let's look deeper. What does "gambling information" really mean? For that, we look at the definition at RCW 9.46.0245:

"Gambling information" ... means any wager made in the course of and any information intended to be used for professional gambling. [I]nformation as to wagers, betting odds and changes in betting odds shall be presumed to be intended for use in professional gambling. This section shall not apply to newspapers of general circulation or commercial radio and television stations licensed by the federal communications commission.

It's strange at first that this only exempts newspapers and radio and TV stations, and not other media, but it was last amended in 1987, so that's why. I think the Seattle Times needs to open up an online poker room. Or PartyPoker needs to buy a radio station.

So if I send information intended to mean that I raise the betting $1, is that "intended to be used for professional gambling"? On to RCW 9.46.0269:

A person is engaged in "professional gambling" for the purposes of this chapter when... the person pays a fee to participate in [an unlicensed] card game, contest of chance, lottery, or other gambling activity...

Sigh. Doesn't look good. But wait -- is my buy-in a "fee"? The state gambling commission doesn't think that a home-game buy-in is:

Home poker games are permitted in Washington State as long as professional gambling does not occur. The Washington State criminal code defines professional gambling as occurring when a person pays or accepts a fee to participate in a card game (RCW 9.46.0269). No fees may be charged for arranging, facilitating, organizing, or for operating the card game.

Well, a buy-in isn't a fee. But the rake? Yeah, that's called a "fee" by the gambling commission:

If you learn that the [private] card game involves charging the players a fee to enter the game or taking a percentage from each hand (commonly called a “rake”), the game would be considered an illegal activity. However, card games may be played in a private residence as long as there is no fee collected.

So the 10¢ piece of the rake that comes out of the pot I bet into might make me a felon. Of course, licensed restaurant/casinos can take my rake, and I'd be legal.

Perhaps the best thing to do then, when the cops come knocking on the door, is to tell your attorney that you assumed the gambling site was licensed.

And get ready to share a cell in Walla Walla with Bubba.

(Thanks, Wil Wheaton, for the heads up).


terrymr said...

Well this got me mad enough to look up the procedure for filing an Initiative ... wish we could get Tim Eyman on our side.

Anonymous said...

i actually emailed my 3 state reps. due to the passing of this law, i will NEVER AGAIN vote for ANY state level official of ANY party, until i can find someone i know for a FACT would vote against something as ridiculous as this.

Anonymous said...

i emailed every senator that sponsored the bill, Senator Craig from Vancouver, WA replied and told me that he was insulted that i would question his integrity by asking him to reverse this nonsense... i guess i should have expected as much, but this is ridiculous... its like prohibition all over again. When are we going to learn that making everybody pay for the iniquities of a few only restricts society in the long run.