Gamblers in Washington

Online Gamblers in Washington Could Serve Jail Time?

A government report suggests there are about 2,000 online gambling websites featuring everything from Poker to Pai Gow to Craps and Roulette. It has always been illegal in Washington to gamble online but now its a felony and playing for money could mean thousands of dollars in fines and even jail time.

From entertainment and sports networks on TV to card rooms and casinos all around Spokane it?s not hard to find a game. But a growing number of gamblers are taking the games out of the casino and onto their desktops.

“It’s just a convenience ? you don’t have to leave your house,” online gambler ?Brian? said. Brian has been gambling online for 10 years. He doesn’t want to use his real name because if he gambles online in Washington now he’s committing a felony.

“You want to make criminals out of them? They’re not doing drugs. You really want to fill your prisons with internet gamblers?” Brian said.

That?s not the intent of the new law according to the state gambling commission. “We want to educate people and the public that internet gambling is illegal and it’s always been illegal,” Agent-in-charge Gary Drumheller said. Drumheller fields phone calls from gamblers, upset about the law but says making internet gambling a felony will protect gamblers from potential online scams.

“You have to look at the people who are operating these games,” Drumheller said. “Are they honest? Do you know where the money’s going? If you win, are you gonna get paid?”

The state regulates card rooms and casinos but cannot oversee or regulate internet gaming sites raising the potential for fraud. Also, while kids can’t get into casinos they can log onto a website.

Internet gambling could have serious consequences for gambling addicts. Dr. Henry Montgomery specializes in addictions and treats problem gamblers who often turn to online games. He says the accessibility and anonymity of online gambling are both the draw and the danger.

“For me, it looks like kind of the crack-cocaine of gambling,” he said. “Once you get involved in that, it’s an empty hole.” Dr. Montgomery says that while online gambling could be horrendous for a problem gambler, it’s probably not dangerous for the casual or recreational player.

Brian says he’s always been paid from the internet sites and thinks the state is motivated more by money than protecting the player.