Yesterday, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer ran a story entitled “-Betting web site’-s computers seized.”- Within hours, bloggers and other news outlets picked up the story and translated it into something akin to “-Betcha shut down.”-
Problem: the translation isn’-t true. (WARNING: if tails of government bureaucrats running roughshod over its citizens turns your stomach, stop reading here.)
What happened was this. Last Friday, Betcha’-s attorneys and I met with the state Gambling Commission to address their concerns. They had us drive to their offices in Lacey, WA, about an hour from Betcha’-s offices. The meeting lasted all of about five minutes, with it ending in a deputy commissioner handing us a pre-printed Cease and Desist order. I’-ll attached a PDF copy of it later, but the gist of it was “-shut down or else.”- Why she couldn’-t have told us this over the phone I am not sure —- I suspect it had something to do with making my Friday afternoon a very expensive one. (Tax dollars hard at work.) At almost the exact same moment, Seattle lawyer Lee Rousso was, coincidentally, filing a lawsuit in state court asking the court to declare the state’-s anti-Internet gambling ban unconstitutional. Although the law has previously been criticized on First Amendment grounds [1|2], and the Commission has taken positions in the past that appear pretty tough to square with any notion of free speech (an example), Mr. Rousso’-s challenge is based on the Commerce Clause —- that is, the law seeks to protect the in-state Native American casinos from out-of-state competition, and is therefore unconstitutional.
On Monday, I arrived to the offices early to unlock the doors so the raiders wouldn’-t bust them down. (Not cheap to replace a busted down door.) A few hours later, Commission enforcers, indeed, showed up and took everything. Our books, our posters, my business cards —- everything. (The warrant wasn’-t limited – among other things, it included “-stamps,”- “-printers,”- “-scanners,”- “-jewelry,”- “-envelopes”-, “-napkins”-, “-cardboard coasters”- and “-keys.”-) No one from Betcha was there —- not a good way to start the week, being on the business end of a roving commission. Ironically, my wife stopped by during the raid and chatted up Rick Herrington, the chief Raider (read: head of Commission enforcement.) When my wife asked Mr. Herrington whether they’-d be selling our equipment on eBay, he shrugged his shoulders, as if to say “-maybe yes, maybe no.”- He then told her “-Nick should have come to us first about this.”- This exchange I find revealing: it seems that the Commission is more interested in ruining me and Betcha than anything else. Why? Because we’-re near their turf.
As troubling was how the conversation continued. According to my wife, Mr. Herrington repeated several times “-he’-s breaking the law, he’-s breaking the law.”- When she told him that that was a judge’-s decision, he replied “-doesn’-t matter, he’-s still breaking the law.”- (If that’-s not guilty until proven innocent, I don’-t know what is.)
On Tuesday, we petitioned a state court in Olympia to enjoin the Commission from this “-seize and threaten now, ask questions later”- approach. It almost never happens that a court will enjoin law enforcement from enforcing its version of the law, no matter how warped that version may be. This is an extraordinary remedy and we didn’-t get it yesterday, although it wasn’-t for lack of fantastic work by our lawyer.
The hearing wasn’-t without substantial incident and irony. Apparently, although several people at both the Commission and Attorney General’-s office had been served with our papers via fax, e-mail, and PDF, someone at the Commission did not receive an original copy of one of the documents, as required by the state service statute. As a result, we could not proceed until we could prove someone at the Commission had been served with an original copy of this document. We then had to race across Olympia to the Commission’-s office in a nearby town to serve the one of the Commissioners himself —- personally. (Not a single person in the legal department was working on that glorious 94-degree Tuesday —- go figure.) The irony —- exactitude matters big time to the Commission when it comes to serving paperwork that they already had. But precision in reading a criminal statute that may result in me doing years in the Gray Bar Hotel, not to mention wiping out a fair bit of investor capital and no less than seven years of man work —- nah.
In terms of next steps, the situation is this. We are pursuing an action to get a court to declare Betcha legal. If the law and/or the Constitution matters in Washington (open question, that), I am confident Betcha will prevail. In the meantime, however, we face a Cease and Desist Order from a Commission that appears hell-bent on destroying Betcha at all costs. We’-re going to review it in detail later today and decide on a course of action. We may have to take the betting-for-money part of the site down until we get on the other side of the steamroller.
You can rest assured, however, about our resolve. The government bureaucracy has been running roughshod over the citizens of this country for far too long. (Check out this book or BoilingFrog.com, among other sites, for some examples.) Prosecutors make up facts, legislators make it a crime to play poker in your own home, bureaucrats rewrite the laws, logic and the dictionary —- and we’-re all left at their mercy. The frog is boiling and the water’-s getting hotter every day. I pledge to the friends and users of Betcha.com that I will do my part to turn the heat down. If that means rotting in jail, so be it.
Cross-posted from the Betcha.com blog