Lawmakers within the Washington state Senate passed a sports betting legalization package this week, but the bill is widely expected to be contested in court. In a 34 to 15 vote held on March 5, the Senate voted in favor of House Bill 2638, which calls for a statewide sports betting industry run exclusively by federally recognized Native American tribes in Washington authorized to offer casino gambling. This tribal-only sports betting bill is going to cause some controversy.

In doing so, HB-2638 easily reached the required 60 percent margin of victory needed to approve any change to Washington gambling law. The bill was previously approved by the state House of Representatives in an 83-14 vote held on February 13.

Crucially, sponsors in the House added a controversial emergency amendment last month, ensuring that HB-2638 won’t be put to voters on the November ballot. Without that emergency amendment, the Legislature’s passage of sports betting regulation would’ve further required 60 percent of the electorate to lend their support.

With both the Senate and House signing off on the bill’s basic framework, the latter chamber must now approve a limited slate of amendments before the legislative session concludes on March 12. From there, HB-2638 will be sent to Governor Jay Inslee’s desk for a final signature before becoming law effective immediately.

Tribes Celebrate After Securing Exclusive Right to Run Sportsbooks

As written as a tribal-only sports betting bill, HB-2638 only allows tribally operated casinos to offer legal sports betting.

In turn, commercial card rooms that serve as informal casinos across the state would effectively be boxed out of the emerging industry.

Industry stakeholders like W. Ron Allen – who serves as chief executive officer of the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe, operator of the 7 Cedars Casino in the city of Sequim – praised the Legislature for prioritizing tribal gaming operators:

“The 29 tribes in Washington State have a deep historical experience overseeing responsible gaming for three decades.

We have a trusted, successful partnership with the state where we have effectively managed gaming in a controlled environment and avoided widespread expansion.”

Washington Indian Gaming Association (WIGA) executive director Rebecca Kaldor also released a statement explaining why a tribal-exclusive sportsbook industry benefits the state as a whole:

“Tribal gaming is government gaming. It is much different from commercial gaming.

Indian gaming funds essential services desperately needed in our communities – education, natural resources, human services, housing and infrastructure, just to name a few.”

Commercial Card Room Conglomerate Vows Court Challenge

While tribal gambling operators celebrated HB-2638’s passage, owners of commercial card rooms immediately went on the offensive.

The Nevada-based Maverick Gaming LLC – which has acquired 19 of the state’s 44 licensed commercial card rooms over the last year – threw its lobbying efforts behind a pair of bills which would’ve allowed so-called “mini-casinos” to run sportsbooks alongside the tribes.

After the Senate voted overwhelmingly in favor of tribal-exclusive sports betting, Maverick Gaming’s chief executive officer Eric Persson released the following statement:

“On behalf of our 2,200 employees and their families who live and work here in Washington State, we are profoundly disappointed that the State Senate has approved a tax-free monopoly for sports betting in Tribal casinos that is also tied to a manufactured ’emergency’ to prevent a public vote.

There is a win for all licensed gaming establishments that helps both Tribal and non-Tribal communities and lawmakers have decided not to pursue it, giving up millions of dollars in tax revenue that could support local and state priorities.”

In the wake of HB-2638 clearing the House last month, Persson answered a query about the company’s intention to sue the state should the bill become law with a simple “of course.”

Jonathan Zaun

One of Gamble Online's first dedicated reporters, Jonathan has spent well over a decade reporting on the gaming industry. While breaking legal news is his main area of expertise, Jonathan is an avid blackjack player & strategist who follows professional poker closely.

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