Betting Entrepreneur Gets Squelched

Nick Jenkins thought he had the perfect scheme for getting around state prohibitions on online gambling.

"[A]ll gambling involves betting, but not all betting involves gambling." So argued Nick Jenkins. He said that since his Seattle-based website, Betcha.com, matched people who wanted to make bets, but didn't participate in those wagers or even enforce payment, it did not violate the state's prohibition on online gambling. He appealed the issue all the way to the state Supreme Court. Last week he lost that bet. Jenkins started Betcha.com in 2007 with the state's anti-gambling laws very much in mind. For a fee, someone could post a bet on anything from sporting events to astronomical occurrences. If another user accepted the wager, Betcha held the money for both parties. For 72 hours after the winner was decided, the loser had the option of hitting a button saying "I Wanna Welch." Hit that button and the bet was off. People who welched ended up with poor "honor ratings" on the site to discourage others from making bets with them in the first place. But since the winner could only assume she might get paid, Jenkins contended, his site was perfectly legal. The State Gambling Commission didn't agree. According to Jenkins, the agency ordered him to shut the site down shortly after he launched it. In July 2007, he sued in Thurston County Superior Court to keep Betcha open for business. Jenkins lost the first round, but the state Court of Appeals reversed that outcome in 2009, agreeing with Jenkins' theory. Bets on the site were "non-binding," they noted. But the state high court said that was irrelevant. Facilitating bets makes you a bookie, even if you don't participate in the bets themselves, the court ruled in a unanimous opinion. Unfortunately for Jenkins, a bill sponsored by Seattle Congressman Jim McDermott to legalize and tax online gambling won't help, because it won't affect state prohibitions.

 
comments powered by Disqus