One of the interesting byproducts of all the recent HR 4411 talk is exactly where do affiliates and bloggers fit into this whole tangled mess. Assuming the absolute worst (that the abortion of a legislative act is passed and online gambling -- except for, you know, horse racing and lotteries, because that stuff is A-OK and not immoral at all -- is deemed illegal) case scenario, that still just applies to either people who actually place wagers online and online operators that accept those wagers? Right? There's no possible way that bloggers or affiliates or anyone else could get sucked into the immoral morass, right?
Maybe so, maybe no.
Washington State serves as a decent precedent, having not only recently deemed online gambling illegal, but classifying it as a felony on par with sexual misconduct with a child. And if Washington State has it's way (or serves as shining example for enforcement and application of a potential ban on Internet gambling), you could go to jail for just writing about poker.
This Column May Be Illegal, by Seattle Times columnist Danny Westneat
For the click-lazy, here's the heart of the argument, in the eyes of officials in the state o' Washington:
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."
I'll give you a second to un-boggle and close your mouth.
On the surface, it'd appear to be pretty damn ridiculous to make any sort of argument that bloggers or affiliates could be breaking the law, by doing nothing other than writing about online poker, or providing a hyperlink to a site. It's a free country and what people do, on a personal level, is up to them. There's absolutely no way in hell that simply creating a hyperlink that points to PartyPoker could be illegal.
Except it very well could be, based on how potential Internet gambling bans are interpreted. And there'd potentially be no difference if you were a big-time affiliate with 12,192 websites or just a simple blogger, talking about playing on the free money tables at Full Tilt, who never made a penny from writing about poker. Aiding and abetting, all of it. Don't matter that it's a free country and that you're just providing information, that people may or may not act on. Aiding and abetting.
Doom and gloom aside, the bright side is that we're still many, many miles away from an Internet gambling ban being passed. And, even if it is passed, there are very few provisions within the current legislation that actually deals with the enforcement side of things, as far as who is in charge of tracking down and arresting scofflaws. Technically speaking, we're all currently breaking the law right now by playing online poker for real money, as the government currently considers it to be illegal based on the Wire Act. Ain't nobody beating on any doors with warrants, though, so it's pretty much a moot point, legality be damned.
Another glimmer of sunshine is that online gaming operators have some pretty deep pockets, and many had previously pledged money for legal support for the Washington State affiliate mentioned in the above article, if he decided to continue to operate his site and was eventually charged. Even if legislation is passed and it's actually enforced and someone is arrested for the villainous act of talking about or linking to online gambling sites, the industry as a whole is aware of the value in fighting a good fight and has shown some signs of willingness to rally behind whatever unlucky soul is first to actually get charged. (Which might, ironically, turn out to be quite a boost to business in the end, if you were an affiliate and suddenly had your name and website mentioned in news articles around the land.)
In the end, who knows, as it's all guesswork at this point. Just something to ponder, though, especially for those of us lucky enough to be blogging in the land of the free and the home of the brave.