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Washington State Renews Bid for Sports Wagering with New Game Plan

Washington State Sports Wagering Game Plan
  • Economic pressure from COVID-19 has united forces needing ancillary revenue for state
  • Plan seeks adding licensed card rooms & racetracks with Native American consent
  • Maverick Gaming will again spearhead efforts to move agenda forward with new rules

A new game plan is underway in Washington state to expand the scope of sports betting beyond any current limitations. In some ways it echoes last year’s attempt, but with a few important distinctions and differences.

Senate Bill 5212 was filed last Wednesday by state Sens. Curtis King (R-Yakima) and Marko Lilas (D-Lynnwood). It aims to expand the applicability of sports betting across a greater segment of Washington’s gambling sector. Should the bill be passed, sports betting would also be allowed for licensed card rooms and racetracks. Beyond prior bills that only included Native American casinos.

Washington had legalized sports betting for its federally recognized tribes in March 2020. The decision came nearly two years after the US Supreme Court repealed the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA), the federal law that banned full-scale sports gambling everywhere but Nevada.

This filing is being driven by Nevada-based Maverick Gaming, but now with an important bi-partisan push, whereby tax revenues can be targeted to help aid the state’s economic recovery from COVID-19.

Why Past Effort Failed

Lawmakers last winter had also rebuffed a Republican-sponsored bill seeking to open sports gambling to the non-tribal competition. Maverick Gaming had pushed the bill, arguing unsuccessfully the state stood to gain financially through taxes generated by sports gaming beyond tribal casinos. The rejected argument seemed to take a different focus once COVID-19 shutdown businesses and revenue losses became widespread throughout Washington. It left a deep void the state is trying to recoup.

A Better Path Forward

Maverick CEO Eric Persson seemed much more optimistic last week as the new Senate Bill 5212 was being prepared. He commented:

Some people are going to be supportive and some people are not, but at the end of the day, the product that we’re trying to offer the state is what’s desired by constituents. The tax revenues that we can generate are desired by Olympia.

No licenses would be granted before the sports gaming compacts currently being negotiated with state Native American tribes are completed. Gross gaming revenue (GGR) from sports betting would be subjected to a 10 percent tax. Each card room and racetrack would also be required to pay a $100,000 upfront licensing fee.

At present, Washington is one of only three US states that only allows its tribes to conduct sports betting. North Carolina and New Mexico are the other two.

Persson is a Hoquiam native whose Maverick company controls 19 of Washington’s 44 licensed card rooms. He has estimated up to $50 million in state taxes can be potentially generated annually from sports wagering. The company says it already pays approximately $13 million annually to local governments. A fee as part of a tax of up to 20% cities and counties can impose on all non-tribal gambling activity in-state.

Next Steps for 2021

There are no formal launch dates announcing when sports wagering could be available onsite or online in Washington yet. The quicker the legislature moves on the discussion, the quicker the process could take effect.

The Washington State Gaming Commission (WSGC) would be expected to issue licenses to several Native American tribes including the Kalispel, Suquamish, Tulalip, and Snoqualmie being among the first within the state.

Tribal gaming entities are not subject to state tax, though proponents argue they provide ancillary state revenues by spending on supplies and services that generate sales taxes beyond tribal communities.

Many pundits feel Washington’s progress to sports wagering legalization passage will also be aided by other state’s also feeling economic pressure. Especially New York, which recently has made headlines announcing Governor Andrew Cuomo’s stance on the online gaming issue.

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