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It was a bit of bad news/good news/bad news in Washington State this past week, as a grassroots effort that sought to legalize online poker in Washington State was declared dead, while a hearing was scheduled for a separate bill seeking to legalize fantasy sports, but at the same time might make Daily Fantasy Sports illegal.

Washington State is no stranger to online gaming legislation, as it is one of the only locales that has passed an online gaming law, which it did way back in 2006. Unfortunately, it’s a law that inexplicably makes playing online poker and gambling online a felony in the state.

Washington State Senator Margarita Prentice (now retired, thank goodness) was the driving force behind the 2006 law, which was later upheld in 2010 by the state’s Supreme Court. Prentice not only made playing online poker in Washington State a felony (law enforcement in the state has never arrested or charged anyone with this crime), but further angered the poker-playing community in an interview with ESPN where she dismissed the game and its practitioners as losers [paraphrasing]:

“I just think some of these arguments are utter nonsense. You mean you’re going to move so you can play poker? Gee, lots of luck in your life… I have nothing against card playing. That’s fine. If you want to do that, but I’m sure not going to worry about someone… you know. Let them go pump gas.”

But now the state is apparently making strides towards undoing what is without question the harshest online gaming law in the United States.

Online poker bill scrapped

Unfortunately, it looks like Prentice’s legacy will remain on the books for at least one more year.

Representative Sherry Appleton broke the news on HB 1114, the online poker bill she introduced on behalf of poker advocate Curtis Woodard and his grassroots lobbying group, saying, “The bill did not get the support that I had originally hoped for and consequently we will not be moving forward with it this session.”

While not the outcome Woodard or any other iGaming advocate wanted, having their online poker bill introduced into the legislature is an important step, and a step that can be improved upon in the coming years. Woodard and his group, the Washington Internet Poker Initiative, have been fighting against Washington State’s overreaching online gaming law for several years, and should be commended for the tremendous progress they have made.

Not only did they see the bill they proposed introduced into the legislature, but they also proved the power of each person and grass roots activism in a democracy. All too often we scoff at the political system as rigged and participation as a waste of time. Woodard has proved this is little more than a copout; an excuse for not getting involved.

Representative Appleton should also be commended for introducing and pushing for the bill.

Woodard and the Washington Internet Poker Initiative intend to continue to push their online poker bill next year, either through legislative means or perhaps a second ballot initiative drive (they attempted one in 2013) that would put the fate of online poker in the hands of the voters.

“It’s not the end, it’s just the beginning,” Woodard tweeted. “We’ll be back!”

Fantasy sports

Prentice’s law, SSB 6613, is far reaching enough that Daily Fantasy Sports websites have made the conscious decision to prohibit residents in Washington State from partaking in their DFS contests – one of only a handful of states where fantasy sports are implicitly prohibited.

However, an effort is now underway in both houses of the state legislature (HB 1301 and SB 5284) to reclassify Fantasy Sports as a “contest of skill,” thus exempting them from Prentice’s harsh law.

The effort took a major step forward last week when a public hearing was announced for the House version of the bill. The upcoming hearing will take place in front of the House Committee on Commerce & Gaming at 1:30 PM on February 10th, and will be the second such hearing on Fantasy Sports this year.

The Senate Committee on Commerce and Labor held a similar hearing on January 30, 2015, and it seems like the measure is something the legislature wants to pass sooner rather than later.

However, it wasn’t all sunshine and puppy dogs during the hearing, and a disturbing trend emerged as several senators spoke out against DFS.

The most notable, but certainly not the only, DFS naysayer during the Senate hearing was Senator Pam Roach. Roach was adamant that Daily Fantasy Sports should be restricted, and announced her intent to submit amendments that would draw a clear distinction between season long fantasy sports and “daily” fantasy sports.

If the same rhetoric is used during the House hearing it could be the end of the road for DFS in Washington State, and potentially ignite a ripple effect in other state legislatures. If you are a DFS player, or a DFS advocate, this is an extremely important development to keep tabs on.

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Steve Ruddock

Steve is veteran of the the poker industry, first as a player and now as a writer focusing mainly on the regulated U.S. markets and the politics of poker. Follow Steve on Twitter @SteveRuddock and at Google+.

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