Washington legislators should rethink their stance regarding who is allowed to manage sports gambling in the state. Regardless of the allegations in a new lawsuit over the issue — or the eventual outcome of that lawsuit — the flaws in the legislation are evident.
At issue is a discriminatory rule limiting sports betting to tribal casinos. Left out, for specious reasons, are cardrooms such as the Last Frontier Casino and Palace Casino in La Center.
Nevada-based Maverick Gaming LLC, which owns and operates 19 of 44 licensed cardrooms in Washington (but neither La Center facility), filed a lawsuit last week in U.S. District Court. The suit claims that the rules are “irrationally and impermissibly discriminating on the basis of race and ancestry” to prevent sports gambling outside of tribal casinos. It names U.S. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, Attorney General Bob Ferguson and current and ex officio members of the Washington State Gambling Commission.
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. About 30 states have stepped through that door, including Oregon, which quickly launched an online sportsbook under the umbrella of the Oregon Lottery. Tribal casinos in Oregon also allow sports gaming.
Washington has taken a different approach. In 2020, the Legislature approved House Bill 2638 to allow sports gambling but limit it to the state’s 29 tribal casinos. That includes ilani near La Center, a resort owned by the Cowlitz Indian Tribe. The state has reached agreements allowing 15 of those casinos to launch sportsbooks, and ilani is finalizing preparations to include sports gaming.
“We are excited to add this next amenity to our award-winning entertainment destination, but more importantly, look forward to the positive impact that sports wagering revenues will have on the Cowlitz Indian Tribe and our surrounding communities,” ilani General Manager Kara Fox-LaRose said last year in statement.
Tribal casinos, allowed under the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988, have been transformative.
“Tribes have been able to enter into a socioeconomic environment where they have brought something to the table,” the chief of the Coquille Indian Tribe in Oregon 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 revenue builds the capacity of the community.”
But 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 when it comes to sports gambling. Since the 2018 Supreme Court ruling, an estimated $90 billion has been legally wagered on sports in the U.S., generating $6.7 billion in revenue for states and casinos. In the long run, the house does not lose money.
Keeping cardrooms and state government on the banks of that revenue stream — just because they are not tribes — is inherently unfair.