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Sunday, February 25, 2024
Feb. 25, 2024

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Press Talk: What’s the fair bet here?


A big-browed guy challenged his cave-dwelling buddy to a club throwing contest 2.5 million years ago. I’m pretty sure a crowd gathered to watch, all with an opinion on who would win. One entrepreneur saw an opportunity and began booking bets of mastodon tenderloins.

Thus, sports betting was born. And the bookie — the guy who writes the bets down in a book and takes a small slice for his efforts — was born with it.

If you fast forward a couple of million years (but before 2018) the only place you could legally place a sports bet was Las Vegas. So illegal bookies covered the landscape. Heck, I even had a good friend in high school who was a star athlete — let’s call him Bob — who had a little side hustle booking bets. Bob made a great living out of it later in life … until he didn’t. But that’s a column for another day.

Now fast forward to 2018. The country finally wised up and the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Vegas should not have a stranglehold on sports betting. Illegal bookies were put out of business as states figured out what to do with their newfound, government-approved gambling opportunity.

But you can bet nothing is easy when the government sticks its hands into any cookie jar. And that is certainly true in Washington.

Oh, it looked like it was going to be smooth sailing for us. Until it wasn’t.

You see, our Legislature decided to allow the tribes to handle all the sports betting. Many of them, as you might know, already run profitable casinos with slot machines, craps, blackjack and other games of chance. But until now, no sports betting.

A handful of tribal casinos quickly jumped in. The closest tribal casino to Vancouver, ilani, is still not a player. They say they expect to have sports betting “in the coming months.”

But hold on, boys and girls. Remember, I just teased you with that line “Until it wasn’t.” That’s right, not everyone is happy with the idea that only tribal casinos are allowed to offer sports betting. Read on.

• • •

Enter Ted Olsen. He’s an attorney representing some of those who are trying to break the tribal casinos’ exclusive hold on sports betting. More specifically, his clients are poker room owners not affiliated with tribes. The closest poker room to Vancouver is in La Center. Olsen spoke to the Seattle Times.

“The Indian Gaming Regulatory Act was intended to guarantee parity between tribal and nontribal gaming, but unfortunately Washington state is (creating) tribal monopolies on certain types of gaming, such as sports betting,” he said.

Look, Olsen makes a fair point here. But like some many things today, it’s more complicated than how he describes it.

So I spoke twice to Rebecca George. She’s the executive director of the Washington Indian Gaming Association. It promotes the benefits of tribal-owned gambling. And she doesn’t much like the lawsuit trying to open up sports betting to the cardrooms. She won’t speculate on the outcome of the lawsuit but believes what the state Legislature approved should remain in place.

George also says it’s important to appreciate what’s at play here. Much of the money generated from tribal casinos is not staying on reservations. It’s getting out into the general Washington economy.

“The state is getting a huge benefit, resources getting into some of the poorest communities in our state. It’s a huge, huge, economic driver for our state.”

George also said tribal casinos save the state big dollars. When tribes can accept the responsibility of taking care of their members, those are dollars the state is not having to spend.

• • •

For me there’s even much more at play than what you’ve read above. Here’s an analogy for you:

Let’s say you were pretty much minding your own business and had built your home. It’s yours, free and clear. You’re not only happy but quite proud of what you’ve done with the place. Then, out of nowhere, some strange guy shows up at your front door.

“Hey,” he says, “I like your home. But it’s not yours any more, it’s mine. This isn’t a negotiation, mind you, but because I’m a nice guy, here are a couple of trinkets plus I’ve got a shack outside of Yacolt I’m giving you. No running water, no heat and a dirt floor, but it’s yours. And no need to thank me. Because guess what? A bunch of us are doing the same thing to your neighbors. And they didn’t get off so lucky. We killed most of them.”

Now if that happened to you and 60 million neighbors of yours, how do you think that would feel? And that’s exactly what happened to the estimated 60 million tribal members who occupied this land before we took it.

Sure, it might be a fair comment to say allowing sports betting only at tribal casinos is unjust. But what is the greater injustice here? Not allowing others to have sports betting? Or taking one’s home, one’s land?

Think about it.