Sorry, Seattle. PokerStars recently announced that, effective immediately, legal residents of Washington State are no longer allowed to play poker for real money on the site. This decision follows a September ruling by the Washington Supreme Court that declared gambling online in the state to be a class C felony, punishable by up to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
The decision by PokerStars followed extensive consultation with dedicated legal advisors. They write in a posting on PokerStars.com: "in all of the jurisdictions where we operate, we are committed to making responsible decisions that are based on a full and considered understanding of the most up-to-date legal advice."
The online funds in Washington players' accounts will not be touched, PokerStars is quick to point out. Tournament tickets and T$ will be converted to cash within a few days of the decision. Cash-outs and transfers will still be allowed as usual.
PokerStars cannily keeps an eye to the future during this process by freezing Washington players' VIP statuses. If (and I wish I could say "when" here instead) new legislation preempts the Washington ruling, player's PokerStars accounts will remain carefully preserved, ready to be thrown back into the fray of competitive online poker.
Full Tilt Poker, the second largest online poker operator in the U.S., continues to serves Washington players. It's unclear at this point whether they and the other sites still operating in the state will follow the example set by PokerStars or leave themselves in a vulnerable legal position by proceeding with business as usual.
This unfortunate turn of events sets a grim precedent for American online poker players. The supreme court decision provides impetus to government officials in other states that would like to see online poker banned in their jurisdictions. Washington may represent the first domino in a chain that ends with obviously enforced widespread bans across large swaths of the United Sates.
In the face of this looming threat, PokerStars also uses the announcement to reiterate their support for legalized and regulated online poker in the United States, writing that it "will provide much-needed tax revenues and formalize consumer protections." They point to the successful licensing regimes in the UK, Italy, France, and Estonia as models for conscientious legalization of online gambling. As the window of opportunity for online players begins to close on a state by state basis, it is important that the key players of the poker industry unite in their support for legalization at the national level.
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