OLYMPIA, Wash. — High school math teacher David Shick confessed his crime: playing poker online.
Shick testified before the Washington Senate Commerce, Labor & Sports Committee this week that he played online poker from 2003 to 2006, which is when it became illegal in Washington state. He started played again for a period of time in 2009, he testified.
“I realized that the state law was just an absolute joke,” he told the Senate committee. “Nobody was being arrested. And so here I am admitting that I’m a Class C felon. If that means I’m going to be arrested, I guess I could be the first one.”
The state has never arrested an online poker player, despite testimony that lots of Washingtonians play the game.
“I’m here to tell you, first of all, this is absolutely a game of skill,” Shick testified, after giving the lawmakers a handout showing his winnings from 214,000 hands that he played in the summer of 2009. “It was absolutely secure, and it was safe.”
He explained, “I have a talent that I can do math very quickly in my head. I can keep my emotions in check, and I made money doing it.”
Shick, who likes to tell his students that he’s more of a “math stud” than a math nerd, made it clear that he wasn’t testifying in the context of teacher pay or education funding. “I can’t believe that I get paid as much as I do to go have as much fun as I do as a teacher,” he said.
However, he said, “From a purely selfish impact, why am I here? I miss my second job. I would like to be able to play and use my talent — my skill — in order to profit from it.”
The Senate committee hosted the briefing on online poker even though committee chairman Sen. Michael Baumgartner, R- Spokane, said no online poker bills have been introduced. Brick-and-mortar gambling is a state revenue source, with Ernie Stebbins, executive director of the Washington Indian Gaming Association, saying his organization’s members contributed $255 million in taxes last year.
“The committee should consider looking at the benefits of the gaming that’s going on in the state of Washington today, as opposed to looking at new forms of gaming that’s currently illegal,” Stebbins said.
Online poker is illegal in 47 states, including Washington. The three states that allow online poker — New Jersey, Delaware and Nevada — made the game legal in 2013. Washington House bills to legalize online poker died quickly in 2015 and 2016. In 2007, a Renton attorney. Lee Rousso, filed a lawsuit to declare that Washington’s ban on Internet gambling was unconstitutional, but the Washington Supreme Court ruled against him in 2010.
A 2006 federal law forbids online poker games from crossing state lines, unless the states involved have agreements to allow that practice. A bill to allow online poker made it through the New York state Senate in 2016 before dying in the other chamber. That bill is expected to be revived this year.
Calling the Washington Senate Commerce Committee by phone during the hearing, John Pappas, executive director of the Washington D.C.-based Poker Players Alliance, said Washington state has the harshest penalties on the books for playing online power, despite that law never being used against players. A Class C felony carries up to 5 years in prison and a potential $10,000 fine.
A 2010 list by PokerScout.com said there are were at least 600 online poker sites worldwide. The top three world online power sites are FullTilt Poker based in Ireland, PokerStars from the Isle of Man, and Absolute Power based in the Kahnawake Mohawk Territory in Quebec.
FullTilt Poker, PokerStars and Absolute Poker have all had legal troubles. Their biggest problem came to light when the federal government charged all three in 2011 for violating the 2006 federal law against having online poker cross state lines. The charges were eventually dropped against the companies, although several of their officials still face litigation on the matter. In 2007, a hacker got into Absolute Poker’s system to be able to see his opponent’s hole cards.
Pappas, Shick and others at Wednesday’s briefing said it is easy for Washington residents to log on to online poker sites. Pappas said the Poker Players Alliance has 1.2 million members nationwide, including 17,000 in Washington.
“There are already thousands of Washingtonians gambling online without oversight or protection,“ Pappas said.
Explaining the economics to the committee, Schick said he made about $2,000 in profits during that summer playing online poker, but would have actually lost more than $1,000 if playing with the same degree of success at a physical casino, because of the higher rake, or commission, taken by the cardroom.
“The online ability to play so many hands at once made it profitable for me. I’m not going to play if it’s not profitable. I really miss my second income,” he said.
Watch Shick’s testimony on TVW.