In gambling, the only sure thing is that the house will come out ahead. The question is who owns the house?
That helps explain why Native American casinos in Washington — including ilani — are eager to add sports betting to their roster of gaming options. “We are excited to add this next amenity … but more importantly, look forward to the positive impact that sports wagering revenues will have on the Cowlitz Indian Tribe and our surrounding communities,” Kara Fox-LaRose, general manager and president of ilani, wrote this month to The Columbian.
That followed a decision by the U.S. Department of the Interior that will allow Nevada-style sportsbooks in several of Washington’s tribal casinos. ilani is planning an expansion of its gaming floor to include the sportsbook, and Fox-LaRose said additional details will be available in the coming months.
Before long, fans will be able to put their money where their mouth is to demonstrate their faith in the Seahawks or the Trail Blazers or the Huskies or the Cougars — or some team they don’t care about unless they have money riding on it. In the process, they will represent a vast social change in the United States.
As Washington Post columnist George Will once said: “Gambling has swiftly transformed from social disease into social policy.” The benefits of that are debatable. As a French proverb says, “Gambling is the son of avarice and the father of despair.”
Of course, complaining about gambling is about as fruitless as refusing to split aces when playing blackjack — it’s not a good bet. According to the American Gaming Association, the industry’s revenue during the second quarter of 2021 was $13.6 billion. That set a record despite a lingering pandemic — and it only includes legalized gambling.
Yes, Americans are going to gamble, and Native American casinos have been waiting to add sports betting alongside their slot machines and craps tables. In 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that prohibitions on sports gambling were unconstitutional; the Legislature followed by clearing the way for Native casinos to add a sportsbook. Southwest Washington Democrats and Republican Paul Harris voted in favor; other local Republicans were opposed.
The legislation is problematic, limiting sports gambling potentially to the state’s 29 tribal casinos while keeping cardrooms and state government standing on the banks of the revenue stream. The Oregon Lottery, on the other hand, has launched online and mobile sports betting (you must be within the state’s borders to access the program), and the state’s tribal casinos already have sportsbooks.
Native American casinos have been a boon for tribes in Washington and throughout the country. As Donald Ivy of the Coquille Indian Tribe says in a 2017 Oregon Public Broadcasting documentary titled “Broken Treaties”: “This is probably the first time the tribes have had the opportunity to have a place in the marketplace. That gets you invited to the Chamber of Commerce banquet. That gets you involved with the Rotary luncheon. That gets you involved and it gets you invited and it gets you on boards, and all of a sudden you begin to learn the rest of the world.”
That, however, does not mean that tribes should have a monopoly on sports wagering in Washington. As ilani and the state’s other tribal casinos prepare to lure sports fans, the Legislature should clear the way for the state government to be a player. Americans, after all, have an unquenchable thirst for gambling.