Net gambling fight heads to governor race


Over the past year, the UIGEA has dominated coverage of U.S. government attempts to curb online poker and gaming. But many states already had laws on the books that prohibit people from playing.

The state of Washington's laws regarding the game, punishable by up to five years in jail and a $10,000 fine, are some of the most draconian. Attorney Lee Rousso is looking to change that, however.

"Someone's got to do it," said Rousso in an interview for last week about his work as the Washington state director for the Poker Players Alliance.

Rousso was responsible for filing challenges to the Washington state laws during the summer of 2007 and, on Jan. 15, he took his battle to the next level when he announced his candidacy for the governor's seat in the Emerald State.

Rousso's love affair with the game of poker started at a very young age, although he jokes about a certain WSOP champion having lured him back to the game.

"Blame Chris Moneymaker," Lee said with a laugh. "No, really, I played in high school against my friends and, at the same time, I also handicapped horses. As I got older, however, it got tougher to find a live game to play. After Moneymaker's win in 2003, I became interested in the online game and won a seat to the 2005 World Series, although I didn't make it out of the first day."

Around the same time, the state of Washington began its push to legislate against the online game. In 2006, current Governor Christine Gregoire signed into law SB 6613, also known as the Internet Gambling Ban.

Rousso stepped up to do battle against the new law by becoming the PPA's state director in Washington.

In the summer of 2007, Rousso filed legal challenges to the validity of SB 6613.

"It violates the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution and goes far beyond what any other state does," Lee said.

The challenge has proven to be a difficult one and has even seen attempts by Rousso's opposition to reveal details of his personal life.

"Currently we are in the Court of Appeals, where the state, for some reason, wanted my private financial records brought into the case. This was overturned by the judges, however," Rousso said.

"The case may take another six months before we get a ruling on the merits. There is a good chance that the case will go to the U.S. Supreme Court."

After seeing the slow progress of his challenges in the court system, Rousso decided to take another tack.

"Call it Plan B," Lee said. "The court case could take some time, so I decided to also work from the political side of the issue and run for the governor's seat."

Rousso believes that Governor Gregoire is in a difficult position.

"In 2004, Governor Gregoire won on the second recount by only 133 votes. That means she has a very small margin for error and, I believe, isn't running the state correctly," Rousso said.

While he has a vested interest in overturning the online gaming laws in the state of Washington, Rousso would like to make other changes throughout the state.

"I don't want to be pigeonholed as a one-issue candidate," he said. "I am alarmed about the growth of the state government and want to get as much of it out of people's lives as possible."

Some of his other platforms include selling the state lottery ("I want to get the state out of the gambling business"), which would produce an influx of finances into the state highway programs. Contrast that with Gregoire's idea of putting tolls on Highway 520 in the state.

When asked about his chances, Rousso commented that it is a little too early to assess them.

"The primary is in August, so the battle will be a long one. I know some of the issues that I am bringing up aren't standard ones, but I think they will register with voters," Lee commented.

He also stated that the support of poker players, not only in Washington but from across the country, would be important to his success.

While many may write or call their representatives to attempt to force action, Lee Rousso is putting a lot on the line in trying to help not only the cause of poker but also that of Washington state in general.

It remains to be seen how his campaign will fare, but the support of the poker community will be critical to his success. With solid backing from the poker world, Lee Rousso could achieve his goal and change the state of Washington for the better.

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