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Washington Supremes deliver death sentence to betting site

Betcha.com craps out

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Washington state's highest court has delivered a fatal blow to a website that billed itself as a person-to-person betting platform that connected people who wanted to make wagers.

Betcha.com attempted to bypass the state's prohibition against unlicensed gambling operations by giving the losers the option of backing out of their commitments to winners. Users who reneged were penalized only by the site's “honor rating,” which other people could use to gauge how likely someone was to make good on a bet. Because losers were not compelled to pay, the clever folks at Betcha argued, no gambling took place on the site.

Washington's Supreme Court on Thursday unanimously and unequivocally disagreed, saying in essence that if it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck . . . well, you know the rest.

Under the state's gambling act, “bookmaking” is defined as “accepting bets, upon the outcome of future contingent events, as a business or in which the bettor is charged a fee or 'vigorish' for the opportunity to place a bet.”

“Betcha's entire business model was based on charging fees from those wishing to bet on its web site,” Justice Tom Chambers wrote for the court. “Users meeting specific criteria were allowed to send bets to Betcha, which would post them on its web site for a fee. Betcha charged fees 'for the opportunity to place a bet.' It was unambiguously engaged in 'bookmaking' as that terms is defined under the gambling act.”

The court went on to eviscerate Betcha's argument that because losers could renege, the business wasn't a gambling operation.

“Under the statutory definition of bookmaking, it is immaterial whether or not Betcha users were engaged in gambling activity,” it said. “The opportunity to place a bet does not require that the bets be paid if lost. Betcha essentially asks us to rewrite the statutory definition of 'bookmaking' to include 'gambling bets' where the legislature has only said 'bets.'”

Betcha was shut down in 2007 following a raid on the company's offices that was conducted by Washington authorities at the behest of the state of Louisiana. Betcha filed a complaint seeking a court ruling that its operations didn't violate gambling statutes.

Not that Betcha didn't come close. Although the company lost in trial court, the company scored a decisive victory on appeal, when a majority of the judges ruled that Betcha users hadn't gambled because bettors didn't have an understanding that they would receive something of value, only that they might, if the loser decided to honor the bet.

Alas, even Betcha founder Nicholas Jenkins seemed to know the win would be short-lived. He described the May 27 oral arguments before the state high court as an “unmitigated disaster.”

Thursday's decision is here. ®

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