Reports that the Washington State legislative branches have passed a bill amending the state's anti-online gaming laws are false, the Governor's office said today.
"It didn't pass through the legislature," said John Lane, the Executive Policy Advisor for Washington Governor Christine Gregoire.
The Washington State legislature posted results for HB 1243, prompting media outlets to report that the bill had passed and was on its way to the Governor's office. The results were actually the votes for HB 1343, a Motor Vehicle Registration bill. An error occurred during the posting, according the Washington State Legislative Hotline.
HB 1243, a bill sponsored by Rep. Chris Strow, is an attempt to repeal wording in the anti-online gambling statue that makes violators Class C felons. It also allows Washington resident the ability to gamble online in their homes for recreational purposes.
Other Class C felonies under Washington State law include but are not limited to acts of child molestation, stalking, drive by shootings, threatening the governor, family abandonment, heroin possession and unauthorized abortion.
Persons convicted of a Class C felony face a maximum of 5 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.
"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," Strow said. "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."
Strow, who originally voted for the measure when it came before the House in 2006, said he would not have voted that way had he known the felony clause was to be added during the reconciliation of the House and Senate bill versions.
He called the Washington State online gambling prohibition "nanny-stateish" on his Web site and said he would like to make amends for his original vote.
"I can't imagine why we would want to put people in jail for one to five years for playing poker online," Strow said.
Strow believes he and several of his colleagues were "sandbagged by the bill's framers who claimed to be "trying to bring state law in line with federal law" by prohibiting online gambling.
He said his state's legislative branches are suffering from "big brother syndrome" and "exceeding their original intent to fall in line with federal law" by making the punishment levels so severe.
The Poker Player's Alliance, a Washington D.C. based lobby group fighting for the right to play poker in U.S., is putting their efforts behind the Strow cause. The organization originally released a statement about the amendment's passage, but has since rescinded their comments upon finding out it was based on rumor.
PPA President Michael Bolcerek told Casino City that his organization has more than 2,500 members in Washington State. An email campaign has been directing members to contact their state officials in order to get the bill a hearing.
"The PPA urges you to contact the Chairman of the House Commerce and Labor Committee, Representative Steve Conway, and ask him to schedule a hearing for House Bill 1243," Bolcerek in a press release.
Bolcerek said the likelihood of the bill receiving a hearing depends on how many of the state's poker players get behind the legislation.
He is looking into alternatives that may receive more congressional support like keeping the law intact, but changing the punishment back to a misdemeanor.
Online gambling has always been a crime in Washington, but in January of 2006, state senator Margarita Prentice pushed to change the charge involved from a gross misdemeanor to a Class C felony.
Prentice said she wanted to protect the state from national and international promoters or operators based in Washington State, more specifically, against two ongoing lawsuits that challenged the ambiguity of Washington's online gambling laws.
Her aim was not the individual gambler, but she believes the law should remain as it stands and called Strow's attempt "completely unnecessary."
Prentice got unanimous support in the Senate, passing the change by a vote of 44-0. The measure passed in the House by a vote of 93-5 and was signed into law by Gregoire on March 28, 2006.
The new law took effect on June 7, 2006.