State law prohibits Internet gambling in Washington. It is illegal to:
- Operate an Internet gambling site
- Gamble on the Internet
- Install or maintain equipment to send or receive gambling information
- Facilitate Internet gambling in any way
Online Fantasy Sports Wagering
Online fantasy sports wagering is not authorized for play in Washington.
The federal Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA) provides an exemption for fantasy sports; however, the UIGEA also states it does not alter state law prohibiting fantasy sports wagering. Washington does not allow online fantasy sports wagering and the UIEGA does not change this.
Fantasy sports wagering falls under the legal definition of gambling – risking something of value on the outcome of a contest of chance or a future contingent event not under the person’s control or influence to receive something of value in the event of a certain outcome.
Fantasy sports wagering usually takes place online and online gambling is not authorized in Washington.
Risks Linked to Internet Gambling
Gambling has a history of being connected to crime and corruption. As a result, it is strictly controlled virtually everywhere. Just because gambling occurs on the Internet doesn’t change this potential or the concern. Some Internet gambling sites may say they are approved, secure or regulated, but that may not be true.
Unlike other licensed and regulated gambling activities, Internet gamblers don’t know:
- Who is operating the gambling site
- If the games are honest
- If winnings will be paid
- If the money wagered will be used for criminal purposes
Players put themselves at risk of credit card fraud, identity theft, or other financial crimes by disclosing information that should be kept secure.
Players have no recourse if they are not paid or are cheated.
Internet gambling creates an uncontrolled environment for problem gamblers and minors.
Penalties for Internet Gambling
Penalties for Internet gambling range from a gross misdemeanor to a felony, depending on the factual circumstances. The actual punishment for any felony conviction is controlled by the state’s sentencing guidelines. Punishment for a conviction ranges from zero days to one years in jail. The standard range sentence that a court is authorized to impose on a “first offender,” absent aggravating circumstances is 0 – 90 days in jail. Violators could also be changed with professional gambling in the first, second or third degree, depending on the amount of money and the number of people involved.
Enforcement is focused on larger, higher level Internet gambling activities, such as gambling sites and service providers. For example, we seized computers, records and money from EZPAY, an automated clearing house located in Chehalis, Washington that was providing payment services for Internet gambling websites. Although there is not an active campaign against players, anyone who gambles on the Internet runs the risk of prosecution.
Internet Gambling is Legal in Some Countries
Internet gambling is legal in some countries, such as Costa Rica, Antigua, Barbuda, Malta, and the United Kingdom. However, it is illegal to gamble on those sites while in the United States. It is also illegal for operators of those sites to solicit, induce, or accept wagers from people in the United States.
Federal Internet Gambling Laws
In 2006, President Bush signed the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act prohibiting businesses, including banks, credit cards companies, interactive computer service providers, and telecommunications services, from accepting or transferring money to offshore gambling sites. This includes credit cards, checks, and electronic fund transfers.
Washington State Gambling Commission Special Agents initiated an investigation into illegal Internet gambling sites. In 2011, as a result of our investigation, the FBI seized domain sites of three Internet poker sites: Poker Stars, Full Tilt Poker, and Absolute/Ultimate Bet Poker. Nearly all of the 11 suspects pleaded guilty to money laundering and violating the federal UIGEA. Authorities seized 76 bank accounts in 14 foreign countries and 9 in the U.S.
Lottery and Raffle Tickets
Online raffles and online lotteries are prohibited under Washington State Law. Lottery tickets must be purchased from licensees of the Washington State Lottery Commission.
In 2004, advance deposit wagering for horse racing was authorized by the Washington State Legislature. This is a separate law from the Internet gambling prohibition. The Horse Racing Commission has several licensed vendors that provide advance deposit wagering and those sites are legal.
Gambling with Free Play Points
Free play is ok. However, if points accumulated on a free play site are then used to play on an Internet gambling site, the points have taken on “value” and have become a wager. This would be considered illegal Internet gambling.
Internet Fraud Complaints
Once you choose to engage in illegal activities, there is little, if any, recourse available. Although you may file a complaint with various agencies, it is unlikely that you will be able to obtain your winnings.
If you know of an Internet gambling site operating in Washington State, send us a tip. If a site is operating from a foreign country, you can contact the regulatory and/or law enforcement agency responsible for overseeing Internet gambling in that country. The Internet Crime Complain Center, a partnership between the FBI and the National White Collar Crime Center, accepts Internet fraud complaints.