Online Gambling Becomes A Felony

Online Gambling Becomes A Felony
SEATTLE - Gambling is for people who like to take a risk. But as of Wednesday, on-line gambling in our state got quite a bit riskier.

A new state law raises the stakes on online gamblers. Placing your bet online for poker and other games is now a felony - even though the state says it's unlikely it'll go after individual gamblers.

The state is more interested in stopping money laundering, gambling "scams" and preventing kids from playing.

Use a search engine to find an on-line gambling site and you can choose between thousands. At peak hours, it's not unusual for 50,000 people all betting on a poker game on the same Web site.

An online wager used to be a misdemeanor, but now it's a felony.

"I think the government has a lot more important things to do than to worry about online poker," says Bob Holley after winning a hand at poker at a local casino.

Holley says he never wins online, but might take his chances and play anyway.

Lawmakers who supported the law say all gambling in Washington is regulated, but online gambling is different. It's too difficult to police says co-sponsor Senator Karen Keiser.

"It's very easy for the organized crime element to take over and develop it; whenever you have that it becomes a very dangerous enterprise," says Senator Karen Keiser, one of 4 co-sponsors of the legislation.

The state opened 12 Internet gambling investigations in the past, but most of their efforts were foiled because it's difficult to track down the electronic bad guys.

They close up operations quickly or more offshore. Senator Margarita Prentice was legislation's the main sponsor. She refused to do an interview. Her staff says she "doesn't want to participate" in any interviews on online gambling, but wouldn't say why.

Instead, her staff forwarded us a letter the senator sent to her constituents that explains the law and claims too many people are confused by the new regulations.

In the letter, Sen. Prentice explains breaking the online gambling law is consider an 'unranked' felony. The jail time could be 90 days or less for first time offenders and no more than one year for others.

"I don't think it's gonna stop anybody," says casino owner Mark Mitchell.

Online gambling operators complain casinos and tribes and even the state lottery will benefit most from the law. But Mitchell doesn't think gamblers will quit betting online. He's betting the law is too difficult to enforce.

"I don't think it will have any effect whatsoever," he says.

Change Of Heart

"I used to be one of those parents thought, 'it's better than drugs, alcohol, smoking,' I thought 'it's just gambling,' " says Jennifer McCausland.

She thought that until her 29-year-old son Ben died. She says her son lost his life as a consequence of his gambling addiction.

McCausland calls the law a one-two punch because it also prohibits the state lottery from doing business online -- a plan that was in the works as early as February until McCausland's group exposed it.

The State Lottery put together a business plan for going online with Lotto. It also included marketing strategies that targeted teens.

Governor Gregoire was so upset, she sent the state lottery director a letter saying not to target Washington's youth.

McCausland founded Second Chance Washington, a non-profit organization determined to warn Washington's youth about the seduction and pitfalls of gambling.

"We were very concerned an unleashed lottery in this state would be dangerous for teenagers," says McCausland.

In 2004 the Legislature passed a law that makes it legal to bet on horse races online. Only condition there, you have to place your bet with a state licensed wagering firm.