Today I headed down to the state capitol to testify against yet another Kill Betcha.com Act. This was my fourth appearance in the last eleven months before a legislative committee, the third before Rep. Steve Conway’s House Commerce and Labor Committee. A video of the hearing is available here — our portion of the hearing starts about an hour into it. (If you aren’t one of my two regular readers, SB 6103, one of three Kill Betcha.com Acts in Olympia right now, would expand Washington’s definition of gambling to include Betcha.com, thereby making it illegal and giving Washington the broadest definition of gambling, I believe, in world history.)
To date, Betcha’s opponents have been unsuccessful in rallying enough support for any of the many Kill Betcha.com Acts. Last year the House Commerce and Labor Committee refused to support SB 6103 after we appeared before them. The Senate Ways & Means Committee then refused to support SB 6152 after Senator Margarita Prentice, the committee’s chair, introduced it in the wake of SB 6103′s defeat. Commission Director Rick Day asked Rep. Gary Alexander to include SB 6152 in the 2009 state budget — apparently that did not happen. Last month the House Commerce & Labor Committee refused to support HB 2355, another Kill Betcha bill sponsored by Rep. Geoff Simpson — like Sen. Prentice, an ex officio member of the Gambling Commission. SB 6103 passed the Senate last week, however, because Sen. Prentice got it straight to the Senate floor without bothering with a committee hearing.
This time we might not be so fortunate.
The Commission brought in representatives from three different tribes to support the bill, one of whom, representing the Muckleshoot tribe, testified. This was somewhat ironic: these bills have been floating around Olympia for almost a year now, and to date the tribes have not said word one. And last month, the Commission’s Amy Hunter testified that a change in the law was necessary to prevent the tribes from getting into the honor-based, betting exchange business. Call me naive, but it isn’t often that a political interest testifies in support of a bill allegedly being directed against it.
The Muckleshoot tribe joined the State of Louisiana in the coalition the Commission has aligned against Betcha.com.
Commission Director Rick Day insisted that, inasmuch as he’s been a government regulator for years, he’s the authority on gambling law. I wish someone would have asked him how it was that, on his watch, a state court held that the Commission had interpreted one of its own rules in an arbitrary and capricious manner. (That’s the ZDI case.) Or that a state court of appeals ruled that there was “no logical basis” to believe Betcha met the definition of gambling; that the Commission’s position was rebutted by the Gambling Act’s “plain language”; and that the Commission’s read led to an “unlikely, absurd and strained” result. (That’s the Betcha case.)
Rep. Steve Conway says he is concerned that families may be ruined if the legislature doesn't pass a Kill Betcha.com Act before the Supreme Court hears the State's appeal.
Director Day testified that the bill is urgent and cannot wait until the Washington State Supreme Court hears oral argument and issues its opinion(s). If the legislature waits, he argued, evil companies may come out of the woodwork and open honor-based online betting exchanges in the time before the Court rules — presumably only to shut them down once the Supreme Court rules unanimously against Betcha. Never mind that none have done so in the year since Division Two issued its Betcha opinion, or that the Commission’s Hunter testified last month that all these evil entrepreneurs are waiting to see how the Supreme Court rules. Director Day cited with great favor Judge Elaine Houghton’s dissent in the Betcha case. He must not have cared much for my criticism thereof. He also said the legislation is not about stopping Betcha.com, which I invented as a legal way to access the heretofore untapped half trillion dollar market in casual wagering in the United States (can you say “tax revenue?”). Perhaps he should have read the Commission’s own talking points on the bill; they were all about Betcha and, more specifically, me.
Gambling Commission Director Rick Day thinks companies will crawl out of the woodwork if the legislature doesn't act now.
My testimony was not uneventful. Chairman Conway and I got into it a bit both on the timing and the merits. The Chairman was concerned that if the legislature doesn’t act now entire families could be wiped out by Betcha.com, which hasn’t been live since the summer of 2007. That we’re-worried-about-the-families point was tough to take seriously given the State runs a lottery, has a Powerball game, and allows tribal casinos to advertise with impunity — none of which, unlike Betcha, give losers the right to opt out of their losses. He seemed troubled, too, about gambling’s connection to organized crime. Of course, gambling does not attract the mafia like excrement attracts flies — the mob is not connected to tribal casinos. Illegal gambling makes an easy shakedown target for the mob because, inasmuch as they’re running illegal businesses, the shakedown victims (usually bookies) can’t turn to law enforcement for help. Oh, and Betcha.com is not gambling — that’s the point.
Troubling, too, was the Chairman’s insistence that the people of Washington are against gambling — so against it, apparently, that the legislature has to change its definition to cover a platform that, according to the Court of Appeals, lacks gambling’s “essence.” To my knowledge, there isn’t a single citizen in the state who has called their legislators in support of this bill — and I’ve asked every committee member I’ve appeared before.
Most troubling of all, though, was the chairman’s insistence that this bill pass post haste. The progressive chairman appeared undaunted that this would not only deny Betcha our day in court, but would also give the Commission an additional tool to solicit a prosecutor to take me out — the argument being that the new bill merely “clarified” what existing law actually means. Back in 2007, Governor Gregoire could not wait three weeks for us to have our day in court before signing our Louisiana extradition papers — it turns out, at the behest of Director Day, whose agency solicited the Bayou State in the first place. Chairman Conway appears similarly impatient.
Whatever happens, I’m feeling more and more pessimistic about achieving my dream of building an American icon in my hometown. As I mentioned above, Director Day tried to have the Kill Betcha.com Act added into the budget last April. There’s no reason he won’t push for that again until, one day, he gets his wish.
Meanwhile, actual gambling continues unabated in the Evergreen State, starving children notwithstanding. Today’s Washington Lottery jackpot is $7.5 million. For the Powerball drawing it’s $44 million.
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