SPOKANE — A bill to allow sports gambling in Washington state, but only at tribal casinos, was signed by Gov. Jay Inslee on Wednesday.
Inslee said the bill would allow the state and Indian tribes to enter into new gaming compacts to cover sports betting.
“This will allow people to participate in a new gaming activity that is safe and well-regulated by the tribes,” Inslee said as he signed the bill, which was easily passed by both houses of the Legislature.
Washington Indian Gaming Association Executive Director Rebecca Kaldor thanked Inslee for supporting the bill.
“The revenue generated by tribal gaming funds critical needs in our communities,” Kaldor said.
“Tribal communities and governments are currently dealing with the devastating impacts of the coronavirus pandemic,” she said. “As we recover from this crisis, the addition of this amenity will help tribal governments fund the essential services their members will need to get back up on their feet.”
The measure included an emergency clause, and takes effect immediately. The Legislature earlier rejected calls to scrap the emergency clause, which potentially could have subjected the bill to a statewide referendum requiring 60% support to pass.
Supporters of the bill said betting on sports was widespread in Washington already, and legalizing it would protect consumers. Supporters also said tribal casinos were the logical place to expand.
The bill passed despite objections that it granted a monopoly to the state’s Indian tribes while hurting smaller commercial card-room casinos.
Those opposed to the bill included Nevada-based Maverick Gaming, which in the past year acquired 19 of the state’s 44 commercial card-room casinos. Maverick contended its venues should also gain access to the lucrative sports gambling market.
Sports gambling has long been illegal in Washington and almost everywhere nationwide. But the U.S. Supreme Court in 2018 quashed a federal law banning such gambling in all but a few jurisdictions, leaving it to individual states to now decide their own course.
The bill would allow betting on professional and college sports, but not on college teams based in Washington state. Bets must be placed at Indian casinos, which are spread across the state.
Maverick Gaming Chief Executive Eric Persson argued in public hearings earlier that the state will lose up to $50 million annually in tax revenues by not authorizing sports gambling beyond tribal venues. He added the only reason the emergency clause was invoked was because lawmakers know Washington residents would never approve the bill as proposed.
Persson has vowed to spend up to $30 million this election cycle on litigation, campaigning, television advertisements and anything else to block the bill from becoming law.
Persson, in a letter to Inslee earlier this month, contended the state is giving away a tax-free monopoly to the tribal casinos, while endangering the jobs of some 2,200 employees at Maverick Gaming.
Representatives of tribes said at public hearings that their casinos provided money for many essential tribal government operations.