Washington’s Weed Battle Over; Poker Up Next?

For some time now, the battle over recreational marijuana legalization in Washington has been over and done with. In 2012, Initiative 502 passed allowing for possession and use of small amounts of marijuana by adults ages 21 and over. The full implications of this legal development have not yet been realized, as recreational marijuana stores have yet to truly get off the ground. The Washington Post recently wrote that there could be further delays in getting these stores opened on a wide scale (like that which we’ve seen in Colorado so far this year).

Still, even with recreational stores yet to open, the economic implications for the state are enormous. In Colorado, it was estimated that the state government raked in $2 million in tax revenue from one month’s worth of sales at just 59 total stores—likely only a fraction of the number that will ultimately be opened throughout the state. And if any state could match these numbers, it’s likely Washington, where cannabis enthusiasm, some would say, is equally high. Consider the assertion by the Washington Post article cited previously that Seattle has half as many medical marijuana dispensaries as Starbucks locations, and you start to get the idea!

But looking ahead, the battle for recreational marijuana isn’t the only major legalization dispute with huge implications for Washington’s economy. As it turns out, online gambling is back on the table, despite having been treated more harshly in Washington than almost anywhere else in the country.

Back in 2006, Washington’s state government sought to eliminate online gambling by making it a felony offense (as in, significant jail time) to play real money poker online. However, there are a few factors that are pushing states all across the country to angle once more for the legalization of online gambling. First is the idea of separating the concepts of chance and skill gaming, with poker counting as a game of skill (potentially allowed in some states), and activities like slot machines or roulette classified as games of raw chance (and likely kept illegal). More important, however, is the economic profit being demonstrated in states with legal online gambling—particularly in New Jersey.

Long recognized as a hot spot for casino gambling, New Jersey has made significant leaps in online gambling as well, with the industry really getting off the ground in 2014. In the early going, it’s the Borgata Casino and its partnership with the Partypoker leading the way, with a 37% combined share in the online poker market. This pairing brought in approximately $4.5 million in revenue in the month of March alone. While the hope among those backing online poker in the state is that this number can grow considerably, it’s still a massive chunk of change that New Jersey’s entertainment economy simply wasn’t generating before. Debate is ongoing over just how much the state figures to profit from taxes on Internet gambling, but suffice it to say the number will be significant by the end of year one!

The question, then, is why a state like Washington—generally viewed as being fairly progressive—wouldn’t want to follow suit with online gaming regulation. According to a recent article published by Bluff, discussions are ongoing regarding this matter. Poker advocate Curtis Woodward is spearheading the effort to get some form of online gaming legalized and regulated in Washington in the near future. Woodward acknowledges the difficulties involved (and he himself has failed to push this effort in the past), but he also notes that the Washington State Gambling Commission is keeping an active eye on other states to observe just how online poker is being regulated and controlled.

But for the poker players among us, there isn’t much debate on the topic. It would certainly seem that a state ready to legalize recreational marijuana—and a state set to profit enormously from that decision—ought to be ready to let us play poker online!

Written by Charles Koh

Founded EatSeattle, and has continued to use his expertise as editor-in-chief to guide the website’s growth over the last five years. Koh’s experience focuses on digital marketing and social media, and has been a part of several companies, some of which he created, specializing in both areas over the course of his career. Koh was previously with Google and Zagat where he helped expand and grow communities worldwide.

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