Gambling Legally in the State of Washington

An Overview Of The Gambling Laws In The State Of Washington

Washington State offers a huge choice of brick and mortar gambling to their citizens, with more than 100 venues including Tribal casinos, poker card rooms and racetracks. On the other hand this is the most clearly anti-gambling State when it comes to online play – with an act making this illegal and including some severe punishments. This article gives you a complete overview of the gambling laws in the State of Washington.

First up, you will find a quick-fire history below, going from the early settlers through to the present day. After that the different gambling formats are listed, along with the legal situation in Washington State for each one. Next the more detailed information can be found, including quotations from the Statutes themselves and a legal timeline. At the end of this page you will find a summary and look at possible future scenarios.


Washington Gambling Laws – A Brief History

Like many States, the initial Statutes in Washington were strongly anti-gambling. This was partly the puritanical views of the era, and party a reaction against the excessive vices (including gambling) of the earliest settlers. The history of gambling laws in this State since is largely built on gradually exempting different forms of gambling from the initial cover-all ban.

Today, Washington is a haven for gamblers, with a huge choice of venues. There are more than 100 casinos, mostly on tribal lands. These were created during the 1990’s – after the State negotiated compacts with the tribes. There are also casino cruises operating out of Seattle, these boats sail the requisite 3 miles to reach international waters, where players are free to gamble without jurisdictional issues. Charity ‘casino nights’ make up the other casino gaming options.

Poker fans are well served in this State. There are many legal card-rooms who offer non-banked games. While there are a lot of smaller poker tournaments and cash games, none of the global tournament tours have made it to this corner of the US as yet. You can also play home-games. The stipulation for these is that nobody takes a profit from the games, either by raking the pots or selling beverages.

If you prefer to play your poker games online, then you are out of luck in this State. They have harsh anti-internet gambling laws, which were put into effect in 2006. These make it a felony to transmit betting information on the internet – even for the players. There have been failed attempts to get these penalties watered down, and also a failed attempt in 2010 to have this law struck down as unconstitutional.

There has been a lottery in Washington since 1982. This includes scratch-off cards, draws and also participates in the major inter-State games. Charity bingo and raffles are also permitted, though these require individual licenses and are subject to restrictions in frequency and prize pools. The other alternative for gamblers in Washington is horse racing. This was the first format to be legalized, when pari-mutuel betting was allowed on-track back in 1933. Nowadays you can bet on simulcast races from designated tracks and off-track betting sites too. There are no slots of lottery type games at the racetracks.


What Forms Of Gambling Are Currently Legal?

Casino Gaming: Yes, there are more than 100 casinos in this State, the majority of them on Tribal land offering slots, blackjack and poker and video poker.

Online Casinos: No, gambling on the internet is explicitly illegal in Washington, carrying a Felony charge.

Live Poker: Yes, you can enjoy poker in card rooms who run on the basis that poker is a game of skill, or at the tribal casinos. Home games are also legal, as long as nobody is taking a profit from the games via rake or fees. There are also several casino cruise ships which operate out of Seattle.

Online Poker: No, the ‘Skill Game’ argument is not accepted as exempting poker from the internet gambling laws.

Sports Betting: Yes, pari-mutuel betting can take place from 4 racetracks and off-track locations, this includes Simulcast betting on races from out of state.

Lottery Betting: Yes, Washington State has a lottery and also takes part in the inter-state games like the PowerBall and Mega Millions.

Bingo Games: Yes, there are separate Charity gambling laws which cover bingo and raffle games for good causes.


Washington Gambling Laws – Statutes And Legal Timeline

The Washington Statutes are longer and more thorough in the details of carve-outs than those in many States. They rest on a ‘contest of chance’ definition, which live poker games have already been successfully exempted from. Online gambling games have their own act and some strong wording to boot.

Here is the key definition of gambling:

“Gambling.” as used in this chapter, means staking or risking something of value upon the outcome of a contest of chance or a future contingent event not under the person’s control or influence, upon an agreement or understanding that the person or someone else will receive something of value in the event of a certain outcome. (From RCW 9.46.0225)

Here is the key wording concerning internet gambling:

Whoever knowingly transmits or receives gambling information by telephone, telegraph, radio, semaphore, the internet, a telecommunications transmission system, or similar means, or knowingly installs or maintains equipment for the transmission or receipt of gambling information shall be guilty of a class C felony… (From RCW 9.46.240)

Below are the legal milestones which have occurred since the generally anti-gambling constitution was signed back in 1890.

1933: Pari-mutuel wagering on horse racing first legalized.

1973: Charity gambling begins under the auspices of the newly formed Gambling Commission. This allows bingo, pull-tabs, raffles and casino nights.

1982: State lottery signed into law, this now includes a wide range of draws and games including the inter-state games.

1992: First compact signed with a native tribe following the 1988 Federal Indian Gambling Regulation Act in 1988.

1997: Card rooms allowed offering non-banked games outside of tribal lands. This includes poker, where the game is not played against the house.

2006: Internet gambling made into a felony via an act which makes transmission of gambling information over phones or the internet illegal for the players as well as the operators.

2010: Poker Players Alliance bid questioning whether the internet gambling ban was constitutional fails, with the Supreme Court backing the State.

2013: Bill put forward (Initiative Measure 582) for the regulation of intra-State poker within Washington. This did not make it as far as the floor. As of 2014 there are no known alternative bills in the legislative process.


Washington Gambling Laws – Summary And Look To The Future

While online poker players think of Washington as draconian in their approach to gambling, the truth is that the laws are liberal here – at least for live gambling games. The choice of Indian casinos is huge, with at least one in every city and reasonably sized town offering a range of games including poker. The internet laws are strict, and the chances of these being amended any time soon look slim. Even if the argument for regulation and taxation could be won inside the government, there are a lot of tribal interests who might feel this could reduce the number of players coming through their doors.


Useful Resources:

Internet Act

Info On Online Act

Statutes

Summary Of Gambling Laws

Background Information From Government Covering Gambling Laws And History