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.”