Online Poker Players Still Felons

With a poker player in the White House, that could change.

Though pros still find a way to make their lucre, Washington is one of a handful of states that expressly prohibits online gambling–and the only one that goes so far as to make it a felony.

Enter Renton attorney Lee H. Rousso, a poker enthusiast who took issue with the law. Representing himself, he argued that it infringed on Congress’ regulation of interstate commerce, citing the Commerce Clause, an obscure, flexibly-interpreted piece of the Constitution that the Supreme Court has ruled is broad enough to allow Congress to ban medical marijuana, but not sufficiently broad to ban guns in schools.

The trial court ruled against Rousso, and last week so did the Division I Court of Appeals, determining that the state’s interest in regulating gambling outweighs the burdens on interstate commerce. Rousso says he intends to appeal to the state Supreme Court. “Given the constitutional issues, I think there’s a good chance they’ll take a look at it,” he says.

He’s also looking to the federal government—particularly House Finance Committee chair Barney Frank—to ease restrictions on online poker. Frank has long been an outspoken opponent of the UIGEA, the federal law prohibiting Internet companies from accepting bank payments for gambling.

“Under the Bush Administration, there wasn’t a lot he could do,” says Rousso. “[But] Barack Obama is a poker player. He’s made statements that we think are favorable towards Internet poker. My understanding is that Barney Frank is going to introduce a bill this month to repeal the UIGEA.”

Until then, local poker pros and dabblers can pin their hopes on Rousso’s appeal, knock on wood, and, if they’re feeling lucky, boast of their outlaw ways.