The first casualty in the state's war on Internet gambling is a local Web site where nobody was actually doing any gambling.
What a Bellingham man did on his site was write about online gambling. He reviewed Internet casinos. He had links to them, and ran ads by them. He fancied himself a guide to an uncharted frontier, even compiling a list of "rogue casinos" that had bilked gamblers.
All that, says the state — the ads, the linking, even the discussing — violates a new state law barring online wagering or using the Internet to transmit "gambling information."
"It's what the feds would call 'aiding and abetting,' " says the director of the state's gambling commission, Rick Day. "Telling people how to gamble online, where to do it, giving a link to it — that's all obviously enabling something that is illegal."
Uh-oh. This is starting to get a little creepy.
I hadn't been all worked up about the state's crusade against Internet gambling, including the new law that makes most online betting a felony.
Yes, it's insincere. This is the same state that's happy to enable your online wagering if you're playing the ponies.
But mostly it seemed the law was unenforceable. And passé. A society steeped in televised Texas Hold'em and Indian casinos is suddenly supposed to recoil at the idea of placing bets with a mouse? I figured the law was a bluff.
Then I heard about Todd Boutte. He's a former Wal-Mart worker in Bellingham who started a casino review called IntegrityCasinoGuide.com. He worried about the new law but figured he'd be OK because his site has no actual gambling.
Not so, said the state. Writing about online gambling in a way that seems promotional can earn a cease-and-desist order, and potentially, a criminal charge. Boutte learned this when a Bellingham Herald article featured state officials saying his site was illegal. He later shut it down and is trying to sell it out of state.
"1984 has finally arrived," Boutte says. "I can't believe this is happening in a liberal place like Washington."
More may be on the way. The state plans to hire an investigator to enforce the new law.
Gambling officials told me The Seattle Times may be afoul of the law because we print a poker how-to column, "Card Shark," by gambler Daniel Negreanu. He sometimes tells readers to hone their skills at online casinos. And at the end of each column is a Web address, fullcontactpoker.com/news, where readers can comment.
If you type in that address, you whiz off to Negreanu's digital casino based in the Antilles.
It's a tangled Web, isn't it? The state says we'd best do our part to untangle it.
"My suggestion to you is to remove from your paper any advice about online gambling and any links to illegal sites," Day said.
So even this column could be illegal?
The state's gone from trying to control gambling, which is legit, to trying to control people speaking about gambling.
It's hard to take coming from a state that bombards us with pitches for the biggest sucker's bet of all. You know, the one they call the lottery.
Danny Westneat's column appears Thursday and Sunday. Reach him at 206-464-2086 or firstname.lastname@example.org.