"It was a person-to-person betting platform where bettors could bet on anything and everything for any amount and with any odds," Jenkins told ESPN Chalk in a recent interview. "So long as a bettor could find an opponent to take his action, the only limit was one of imagination."
And it all came about because Jenkins was unable to agree on the terms of a friendly wager.
"The idea came from real life," Jenkins said. "I like to bet casually on just about anything. My buddies aren’t always willing to give me the terms I want. One day I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool if there was a platform where I could post my bet offer for anyone in world to accept?’
"So I made one."
A 2007 screen shot (see above) of the website shows how his idea came to fruition after years of software development and $540,000 of investment funding, according to Jenkins.
"The Betcha platform allowed ‘sellers’ to post bet offers on anything and everything, from sports to politics to pop culture," he said. "All they needed was a ‘buyer’ who was willing to bet on mutually agreeable terms."
Don’t look for the website now, though. While Jenkins still owns the domain name, the portal has been shuttered for more than eight years.
"The site was only up for a few weeks and the betting amounts were mostly between $5 and $25," he said. "Betting on sports was dominant."
Advertising material for Betcha.com, most of which was never activated given the site’s short life, highlighted the platform’s unique characteristics.
According to court documents obtained by ESPN Chalk, regulators from the Washington State Gambling Commission issued Jenkins a cease-and-desist letter within weeks of the platform’s launch. A three-year legal battle ensued, with back-and-forth rulings from different appellate judges in the Evergreen State. As part of the enforcement action, two officers went undercover and made no fewer than four bet offers on the site.
From a police legal filing in the case, a July 7, 2007, proposition involving baseball is illustrative of how trades were matched on Betcha.com.
On Sept. 2, 2010, the Washington State Supreme Court ruled against Betcha.com. The crux of the case turned on the court’s finding that the Betcha platform operated as a bookmaker in violation of state law. Washington statutes define "bookmaker" as follows:
" ‘Bookmaking,’ as used in this chapter, means 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."
Lawyers for Betcha.com wrote in a legal filing: "Like eBay, Betcha charges fees for others to offer and accept bets. Betcha no more ‘accepts’ bets than eBay accepts offers to purchase every item offered for sale on eBay.com."
According to Jenkins, a straightforward reading of the definition of "bookmaker" requires one to accept bets.
"A showing of ‘accepting bets’ is clearly required," said Jenkins, a graduate of Georgetown’s law school. "There are two dependent clauses after it [in the statute]."
The Washington State Supreme Court disagreed.
"The bookmaker may, but need not take a position on the bet for it to be engaged in bookmaking under the statute," Justice Tom Chambers wrote on behalf of the entire court. "Because bookmaking alone may constitute professional gambling under the statute, we need not address whether Betcha or its users were also engaged in ‘gambling’ as that term is defined."
Simply stated, gambling comprises three elements: prize, chance and consideration (entry fee, wager, or anything of value). All three are required and each element has been analyzed by politicians, judges, law enforcement, professors and bettors for decades. Betcha’s unique twist, beyond its exchange-like structure, was that users were expressly permitted to opt out of their bets within 72 hours. According to a 2009 intermediate appellate decision in the case, the Betcha.com website and terms of service included no fewer than four references to the nonbinding nature of the transactions.
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