Lawmakers within the Washington state House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed a sports betting bill last week, but local stakeholders expect the legislation to wind up derailed by litigation.
House Bill 2638 – which would limit legal sportsbooks to licensed Native American tribal gaming operators – was approved on February 13 by the full House in an 83-14 vote. Just two days earlier, the House Appropriations Committee voted to forward HB-2638 onward for a full floor vote.
The legislative whirlwind – HB-2638 was introduced less than a month earlier – shifted the onus to the Washington Senate, where the Committee on Labor & Commerce is scheduled to hold its first public hearing for HB-2638 on February 24.
The bill’s sponsor, state representative Strom Peterson (D-21), told the Seattle Times that he was pleased with the final tally’s widespread support from both sides of the aisle:
“Incredibly proud of the strong 83-14 bipartisan vote.
We have found a good middle path that supports our tribal partners, allows adults to safely access sports betting and protects our youth.”
But based on the last-minute inclusion of a controversial emergency amendment, opponents of tribal exclusivity over sports betting in the Evergreen State believe the courts will ultimately throw Peterson’s bill out altogether.
Card Club Owners Want Their Cut of Washington Sports Betting
HB-2638 and its Senate companion SB-6394 were part of a package of sports betting regulation bills submitted to the Washington State Legislature last month.
Those bills seek to limit sportsbook operation to 21 federally recognized tribes, a coalition which currently operates 29 casino resorts across the state.
In contrast, a pair of bills introduced in both chambers – HB-2478 and SB-6277 – would expand the new industry beyond tribal gaming establishments by allowing the state’s 21 licensed card room operators to offer sports wagering services. These 21 operators run the state’s 44 non-tribal card rooms, or “mini casinos” authorized to offer house banked card games like blackjack and baccarat, but not slot machines or video poker.
Las Vegas-based Maverick Gaming LLC – which became Washington’s largest commercial card room operator last year after acquiring Nevada Gold and its 19 card rooms – guided the legislative drafting process behind HB-2478 and SB-6277.
When the bills were introduced, Maverick Gaming’s chief executive officer Eric Persson outlined the company’s vision for an inclusive statewide sports betting marketplace.
“Legal sports betting will give lawmakers the opportunity to create a regulated system that collects tax revenues that should be used to address community needs, supports a strong sustainable workforce, and provides economic opportunity in this growing global market.
Critically, regulated, legal sports betting has the dual benefit of undermining offshore criminal networks which currently profit from the unregulated and unsafe system.
I look forward to working with Washington’s elected leaders, Tribal Government Leaders, community stakeholders, and all interested parties regarding the merits of this proposed legislation.”
Attempt to Avoid Voter Referendum Could Have Consequences
Typically, any changes to Washington’s gambling and lottery laws require at least 60 percent of the electorate to approve via ballot referendum.
But with the Legislature facing a deadline of March 13 to send a sports betting bill to Governor Jay Inslee’s desk, Peterson successfully added an emergency amendment to HB-2638 removing that requirement.
As he told Legal Sport Report, Persson is confident that the addition of this emergency amendment presents Maverick Gaming with a prime opportunity to challenge the proposed tribal monopoly in court:
“The emergency clause is something we welcome because we think it’s flawed logic and there is no emergency.
We think ultimately through litigation this legislation would probably be thrown out.
I’m sure they’ve done polling on Washingtonians like we have. They know there’s no path to 60%.”
To that end, Maverick Gaming immediately responded to the House vote by releasing a legal opinion written by former state senator and Washington Supreme Court Judge Philip A. Talmadge.
Per the opinion, Talmadge contends that the state faces no legitimate emergencies which would necessitate such an amendment:
“An emergency clause to this legislation, claiming that either bill is necessary for the immediate preservation of public peace, health, or safety is highly suspect and will only ensure lengthy litigation testing such a legislative assertion.”