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The following is presented as part of The Columbian’s Opinion content, which offers a point of view in order to provoke thought and debate of civic issues. Opinions represent the viewpoint of the author. Unsigned editorials represent the consensus opinion of The Columbian’s editorial board, which operates independently of the news department.

In Our View: Lawmakers must fix sports gaming quagmire

The Columbian
Published: January 5, 2023, 6:03am

A year ago, The Columbian wrote editorially: “Washington legislators should rethink their stance regarding who is allowed to manage sports gambling in the state. … Flaws in the legislation are evident.”

That remains true, but the issue appears to have grown well beyond the boundaries of a single legislature, threatening the sovereign status of Native tribes throughout the country. Federal courts should rely on centuries of precedent and on promises made by the United States, defending and bolstering the dominion of Indigenous nations.

In a tenuous fashion, this is related to the issue of sports gambling.

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. Some 30 states have stepped through that door, and in 2020 the Legislature approved betting on sporting events — but only at tribal casinos. The Cowlitz Tribe’s casino near La Center, ilani, opened a sportsbook in October.

Preventing cardrooms or the state government from establishing sports gaming was shortsighted and discriminatory. And it quickly was met with a lawsuit led by Nevada-based Maverick Gaming LLC, which owns and operates 19 of 44 licensed cardrooms in Washington (but not the ones in La Center).

That lawsuit, in U.S. District Court, claims that the rules are “irrationally and impermissibly discriminating on the basis of race and ancestry” to prevent sports gambling outside of tribal casinos. In January 2022, The Columbian editorialized: “Keeping cardrooms and state government on the banks of that revenue stream — just because they are not tribes — is inherently unfair.”

Since that time, the lawsuit has taken on added meaning, with critics pointing to a series of legal battles designed to undermine the sovereignty of tribes. Underscore News, a nonprofit newsroom that covers tribal issues in the Northwest, recently reported on “a coordinated campaign that experts say is pushing once-fringe legal theories to the nation’s highest court and represents the most serious challenge to tribal sovereignty in over 50 years.”

In November, the Supreme Court heard arguments in Brackeen v. Haaland, which challenges the right of American families to have preference over non-Native families in the adoption of Native children. Plaintiffs claim the preference is based on race, rather than the political sovereignty of tribal nations. Underscore reports: “A ruling in their favor could fundamentally rewrite the way the U.S. government regards tribal nations, casting policies created by treaty or agreements between sovereign nations in doubt.”

For centuries, the United States has negotiated treaties with Native American tribes, recognizing them as sovereign nations. Eliminating that sovereignty would be an egregious violation of the U.S. Constitution and legal precedent.

As the National Conference of State Legislatures explains: “The U.S. Constitution recognizes Indian tribes as distinct governments and they have, with a few exceptions, the same powers as federal and state governments to regulate their internal affairs.”

In that regard, it is legal for the Legislature to approve sports gambling for tribal casinos; but it is not wise. Providing special dispensation invites complaints of discrimination in favor of tribal entities.

It is unlikely the Legislature intended to wade into a constitutional quagmire in passing a sports gaming bill in 2020. But the fact that it did calls for a remedy during the upcoming session.