Online Gambling: Retool state law

28 June 2006


Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Washington legislators would do well to retool their new Internet gambling law before the courts do it for them.

The law, which took effect June 7, seems to unjustifiably threaten free speech rights.

It makes it a felony if someone “knowingly transmits or receives gambling information” online. That’s casting an unacceptably broad net.

What is the state’s compelling interest in outlawing Internet gambling, as the federal government already has done? Can any state law really protect its citizens foolish enough to trust their fortune — and their credit cards — to clandestine croupiers?

The state’s more logical, if cynical, vested interest is in preserving market share for its revenue-raising games, such as Lotto, or in protecting its home-grown tribal gambling industry.

In any event, the Legislature went too far in making it a felony to link to or merely refer to an online gambling site. It’s indicative — and a bit embarrassing — that lawmakers exempted the news media.

“If the P-I puts it on the Internet,” University of Washington law professor Stewart Jay says, “it’s legal. If Joe Blow puts it on the Internet, it’s illegal. … When you discriminate between forms of speech and providers, the government has to provide a compelling reason.”

The state has failed to do so with this law, so its prospects for surviving a court challenge are suspect.

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