gambling law raises doubts
Weeks after a new state law about online casinos
took effect, some legal experts are questioning whether the new
online casinos legislation would hold up in court.
The new online casinos law echoes a federal law that already
makes online casinos illegal and upped the crime to a felony.
But some First Amendment experts say the online casinos
legislation be too broad and could leave people who own or
operate regular web sites, not just online casinos risking
prosecution for posting links to online casinos or even writing
about online casinos.
Critics say the state must have a strong reason and a very
specific law to limit free speech -- even in cyberspace.
"Providing a hypertext link does not seem to aid and abet
gambling," said Michael Overing, a Los Angeles lawyer who
specializes in the First Amendment. "Perhaps the law is
overbroad in that respect."
Kraig Baker, a Seattle attorney who focuses on Internet issues
including online casinos, said people "have pretty broad
latitude" about what they can put on their Web sites. Typical
exceptions are "fighting words," obscenity and threats to
"The basic rule is that there's no liability for placing a link
on a Web site," he said. "Traditionally, there is great
deference paid toward speech."
The online casinos law, which took effect June 7, says anyone
who "knowingly transmits or receives gambling information" using
the Internet is guilty of a Class C felony punishable by up to
five years in prison.
Rick Day, director of the Washington State Gambling Commission,
said most people don't need to worry. The state isn't out to get
gambling aficionados who blog about online casinos or post tips
on how to beat the dealer at blackjack, he said.
Instead he did mention that links or references to online
casinos conceivably could spell trouble for Web site owners.
"What you have to look at is whether that is a solicitation or
inducement for people to engage in something that's illegal."
He said the state will deal with online casinos case by case and
is more likely to go after big corporations that link to
gambling sites than "a local entrepreneur."
First-time online casinos offenders likely will get a
cease-and-desist order pointing out the violation, he said;
continued offenses might mean criminal charges.
He suggested that people who are unsure about putting
gambling-related information on their Web site write to the
commission and ask.
He took a harder line earlier this month when asked about Todd
Boutte, a Bellingham man whose "Integrity Casino Guide" Web site
linked to online gambling sites.
Boutte has also told The Bellingham Herald that he helped
support his family by running the site and said he hoped he was
safe, given that he didn't make or take bets himself.
"Any party involved could be guilty of a violation of state
law," he said. "If the site also has a link to a gambling site,
then to us that's no different."