Progress in Washington Sports Betting Stalled from Tribal Opposition Within State

  • Washington at an impasse for sports wagering as Native American tribes voice opposition
  • State card rooms express involvement in state plans as the debate continues in the next steps
  • Both sides forecast new jobs to be added and great revenue opportunity expected

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It seems clear that impending passage for sports wagering legislation in the state of Washington is not at hand or potentially close.

Lawmakers at a state Senate committee hearing last week on a bipartisan bill to broaden sports gambling in Washington were impressed that more than 1,800 people were in attendance to voice their opinions on the proposal.

Senate Bill 5212 was introduced to allow for the state’s card rooms and racetrack’s to offer sports wagering, joining tribal casinos that have incumbent rights to do so. However, among 1,041 signees opposing the bill, were 17 registering lobbyists that represent 14 of Washington’s 29 federally recognized Native American tribes.

Although the lobbyist faction was a minority voicing their opinion, public disclosure records show their firms were paid $1.16 million in 2020 by the state’s Native American tribes to promote their interests with state politicians.

Estimates for Washington’s gambling industry have run as high as $3.4 billion, augmented by the opportunity to introduce sports wagering legislation. Currently, 82% is generated by tribal casinos.

State Card Rooms Express Involvement in State Plans

The tribes believe that figure is highly exaggerated. And they have told politicians they want no competition infringing on a sports gambling monopoly vital to financing their self-government community programs.

Rebecca George, Executive Director of the Washington Indian Gaming Association said:

This irresponsible legislation seeks to allow sports betting into every community in Washington,

George also told state senators that casinos are one of the only sources of revenue for tribes. She added:

If passed, this legislation would cause real and lasting harm to the tribes and to the state’s economy. It would also undermine the safe and deliberate framework that the state and the tribes have developed carefully over the last 30 years.

George’s comments and opinions were largely directed toward Maverick Gaming, who have purchased 19 of the 43 card rooms in Washington since 2019. They have also been a powerful lobbying force seeking sports gaming legalization.

Different from Washington’s tribal casinos that are under strict state gaming laws, non-tribal card rooms mainly have local customers rather than out-of-state tourists and can only offer select card games.

Maverick Gaming owner Eric Persson believes new legislation for sports wagering would generate nearly 200 new employees at his 19 locations across the state. He commented on the issue:

It creates a lot of family-wage jobs that are needed during this pandemic. It creates a lot of tax dollars that are needed both of the state and very importantly, at the local level.

New Rules for Legislation & Outlook

Among the new rules for sports wagering in Washington state call for non-tribal cardrooms to pay a $100,000 license fee. Betting could only happen on the premises, and revenues would be taxed 10% for the state. A similar bill to this proposal died last year.

It is anticipated both sides will continue to pump lobbyist money this year into political support for their individual cause. The major progress toward legalization in 2021 maybe most gained witnessing other US states announce they have officially legalized sports wagering.

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Larry Gibbs

Expert on Sports Betting Industry

Larry Gibbs is both a seasoned journalist and a respected online gaming industry consultant. His wry commentary & sharp analysis have appeared in numerous top gaming and sports wagering publications. He has also served as Vice President of US Gaming Services, a marketing research organization with 15 years of experience in US online wagering. He has spoken at noted gaming industry conferences including G2E, GiGSE, and NCLGS.

Email: [email protected]