Online Gambling

Criminal Cards

|

A state legislator in Washington has taken the bold position that people who play poker online should not be treated as felons. Rep. Chris Strow (R-Whidbey Island) is introducing a bill that would strike a provision of the online gambling ban passed by the state legislature last year that makes it a Class C felony to place bets online. He explains:

While I do see the need for protecting our citizens from online gaming that may be scamming innocent victims, I do think that there is also a level of accountability, as an adult, to do as he or she chooses in his or her own home. Most certainly choosing to gamble, or play a game of skill such as poker, should not have been made a crime equivalent to possessing child pornography or threatening the Governor….There's a certain point at which policy can be perceived as "nanny stateish." I think we reached that point with last year's legislation and I'm aiming to make amends.

While Strow's heart is in the general vicinity of the right place, the implication that legislators who vote to ban online gambling are mainly interested in preventing fraud is more than a little misleading. If anything, creating a black market facilitates fraud, while legalizing the business makes it easier for gamblers to avoid being ripped off. The aim of laws like these is to stop people from gambling, period, which is inherently "nanny stateish." Furthermore, there is a contradiction at the heart of the moral/legal distinction between gambling online and running a gambling website (similar to the problem with the distinction between using drugs and selling them): If playing online poker is a harmless pastime, or at least a form of recreation in which adults have a right to engage, how can helping people do it be a felony?

 [Thanks to Tom Paine's Goiter for the tip.]

NEXT: Texas Smoking Ban

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. …the implication that legislators who vote to ban online gambling are mainly interested in preventing fraud is more than a little misleading.

    Ah…I understood him to be saying that, while it’s a bad idea to punish people who are placing bets, the government should be able to punish people for running fraudulent gaming sites.

  2. His constituents out on Whidbey Island must while away some lonely hours playing poker online. I’ll bet Whidbey saw some bootleg Canadian whiskey back in the day, too.

    Good for him. Baby steps back to sanity.

  3. Yeah, I’m going to say that he is diplomatically saying the law is retarded, but he is still for fighting fraud.

  4. Furthermore, there is a contradiction at the heart of the moral/legal distinction between gambling online and running a gambling website (similar to the problem with the distinction between using drugs and selling them): If playing online poker is a harmless pastime, or at least a form of recreation in which adults have a right to engage, how can helping people do it be a felony?

    Also with prohibiting gambling online while encouraging participation in the state lottery.

  5. Two interesting pieces:

    1. The law only creates and affirmative defense for online players.

    2. This bit: ‘Most certainly choosing to gamble, or play a game of skill such as poker,”

    is interesting. Poker is always lumped in with ‘games of chance’ when it comes to gambling law. Should this pass, it could give poker players a really big arrow to go after gambling law.

  6. It’s also interesting that online gambling gets an affirmative defense under this law, but illegal non-virtual gambling does not.

  7. Poker is always lumped in with ‘games of chance’ when it comes to gambling law

    Not nearly ‘always’. Card clubs have long been legal in some SoCal cities (Gardena?) under the notion that poker is a game of skill.

  8. I thought that CA clubs were grandfathered in, not carved out?

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.