Sunday, October 25, 2020
Oct. 25, 2020

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In Our View: Blowing the whistle on sports-gambling bill

The Columbian
Published:

A bill in the Legislature that would allow for sports gambling in Washington is discriminatory and should be rejected. While it appears inevitable that the state will enter the growing market for sports wagering, limiting the industry to Native American casinos is inherently unfair.

That, however, is the direction in which the Legislature is moving. A bill in the House of Representatives (HB 2638) was approved last week by an 83-14 vote. Co-sponsors Paul Harris, R-Vancouver, and Monica Stonier, D-Vancouver, were joined by Vancouver Democrat Sharon Wylie in voting yes; Clark County Republicans Larry Hoff, Vicki Kraft and Brandon Vick voted no. A companion bill in the Senate is being considered in committee.

Rep. Strom Peterson, D-Edmonds, who introduced the bill, said: “We have found a good middle path that supports our tribal partners, allows adults to safely access sports betting and protects our youth.” It should, however, also support licensed cardrooms.

In 2018, the Supreme Court of the United States issued a ruling in Murphy v. National Collegiate Athletic Association that opened the door for states to establish sports gambling. At least 14 states have stepped through that door, including Oregon, which recently launched an online sportsbook.

Washington’s proposed approach would be much different, and it is problematic.

Among the issues is the fact that sports gambling would be limited to the state’s 29 tribal casinos, such as ilani near La Center, a resort owned by the Cowlitz Indian Tribe. While tribes that manage casinos have the benefit of experience with gaming, there is little justification for leaving smaller cardrooms or, eventually, state-run betting sites out of the mix.

Nevada-based Maverick Gaming LLC, which in the past year has purchased 19 of the state’s 44 cardrooms, is lobbying to be included in sports gambling. But a bill that would have covered nontribal cardrooms stalled in legislative committee.

Limiting sports gambling to tribal casinos will leave the state on the banks of the sports gambling revenue stream. Tribal casinos do not pay state taxes on their revenue.

Equally problematic is an emergency amendment in the House bill that blocks it from being subject to a statewide referendum. This is an egregious abuse of the emergency clause. As Philip A. Talmadge, a former state senator and state Supreme Court justice, wrote in an opinion released by Maverick Gaming: “An emergency clause to this legislation, claiming that either bill is necessary for the immediate preservation of public peace, health, or safety is highly suspect and will only ensure lengthy litigation testing such a legislative assertion.”

With the bill limiting gaming to tribal casinos and providing no revenue for the state, the emergency declaration is indefensible. There is no immediate need for the bill in order to raise emergency funds for the state government.

Washington long has taken a cautious approach to gambling, even as what once was viewed as a public scourge has increasingly been embraced as public policy. Online betting of any kind is a Class C felony in this state, even if penalties are rarely enforced.

With a new landscape for sports betting, the state should, indeed, adopt a policy that allows residents to gamble on sporting events. But that policy should provide some revenue for the state and should not be limited to tribal casinos. The current bills take a shortsighted approach by providing unfair advantages for those casinos.

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