SPOKANE — Many Native American tribes in Washington on Thursday urged the state Gambling Commission to approve amendments to gambling compacts to allow sports betting at tribal casinos.
The commission took testimony from numerous tribes during the first day of a two-day meeting on the issue.
This is the next step in the process of allowing sports betting, following approval last year by the state Legislature.
The proposal of allow sports betting must still be approved by the commission, Gov. Jay Inslee and the federal government.
Numerous tribes extolled the financial benefits of gambling and said sports betting would expand revenues that are used to support a wide variety of social programs and other operations by once-impoverished tribes.
“I ask respectfully the commission to pass this forward,” said Stanford Lee, chief executive officer of the Snoqualmie Casino.
The Tulalip Tribes told the commission that tribes are collectively the seventh-largest employer in the state, with non-Indians making up 70 percent of the work force. They said sports betting will create even more jobs for Washingtonians.
While casinos have provided an economic boom for tribes, there is still much work to be done, said Jaison Elkins, chairman of the Muckleshoot Tribe.
“The effects of poverty, neglect and disease are not easily overcome,” Elkins said. “We use every dollar from gaming.”
Shoalwater Bay tribal chair Charlene Nelson said the tribe needs money to continue moving tribal members off flood-prone areas to higher ground.
Carol Evans, chair of the Spokane Tribe, said additional money will help the tribe preserve its traditional language.
“Gaming is good,” Evans said.
People testified that tribes have a three-decade record of successfully offering gambling in a safe environment, with the funds going not to private investors but to government programs.
Numerous Washington tribes have received preliminary approval to pursue sports gambling, according to the Gambling Commission.
Sports betting at tribal casinos became an option after a 2018 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court that struck down a 1992 federal law that banned commercial sports betting in most states. Following that decision, the Washington Legislature last year passed House Bill 2638 to allow sports gambling at tribal casinos. The Legislature rejected an effort to allow private card rooms to allow sports betting.
While the framework of the deals has been reached, all the tribal compacts must go through a series of state and federal approvals before sports wagering can start.
In April, Gambling Commission chair Bud Sizemore said he was hopeful sports wagering can begin in Washington before the NFL regular season starts.
The bill passed by the Legislature would allow gambling on major league professional sports, the Olympic Games and other international events. There would also be betting on college sports, with the exception of no betting on games involving in-state schools. There will be no online or mobile gaming options outside the walls of tribal casinos.