Twenty days after the Washington state Senate approved a controversial sports betting bill, Governor Jay Inslee signed the legislation into law making tribal-only sports betting legalized in Washington.

Governor Jay Inslee at podium

Washington Governor Jay Inslee, who backed the Tribal-Only Sports Betting Bill.

House Bill 2638 was passed by the state Senate on March 5, and Inslee put pen to paper and made things official on March 25. In doing so, Inslee authorized regulated sports betting to be offered exclusively by the 29 federally recognized Native American tribes which already offer casino gambling in the Evergreen State.

During a signing ceremony, Inslee celebrated Washington’s addition to the list of 20 states which have legalized sports wagering since May of 2018 – when the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a federal ban on the industry outside of Nevada:

“This will allow people to participate in a new gaming activity that is safe and well-regulated by the tribes.”

Inslee’s signature made Washington the first state to regulate sports betting in 2020, while Illinois, Michigan, and Montana have all launched legal industries this year.

Washington’s Gaming Tribes Score Huge Win Thanks to Inslee’s Support

Under the terms of HB-2638, tribes licensed to offer casino gaming are the only entities authorized to offer legal sportsbooks.

Inslee opted to throw his political weight behind the tribal-only bill that would make tribal-only sports betting legalized in Washington instead of a separate

Sports Betting Legalized in Washington, capitol building in Washington

Capitol Building in Washington, DC.

legislative package which sought to include 21 commercial card room operators. The largest of those operators, Maverick Gaming LLC, runs 19 of the state’s 44 commercial card room.

Rebecca Kaldor – who serves as executive director of the Washington Indian Gaming Association (WIGA) – issued a statement praising the state for choosing the tribal-only route:

“It feels timely that everything we’ve been saying is funded by our [tribal] government gaming is now in jeopardy.

And so, the silver lining is that this will be an added amenity tribes can use to get our communities back up and running in a healthy way.”

Kaldor’s comments referred to the recent closure of almost every casino in the United States, as the ongoing coronavirus outbreak has forced state and local governments to shutter non-essential businesses – especially those where large groups of people gather in close quarters.

She went on to specifically mention the impact of coronavirus closures as a prime reason to limit legal sports betting to tribal operators:

“Tribal communities and governments are currently dealing with the devastating impacts of the coronavirus pandemic.

“The revenue generated by tribal gaming funds critical needs in our communities.

As we recover from this crisis, the addition of this amenity will help tribal governments fund the essential services their members will need to get back up on their feet.”

“The revenue generated by tribal gaming funds critical needs in our communities. As we recover from this crisis, the addition of this amenity will help tribal governments fund the essential services their members will need to get back up on their feet.”
Rebecca Kaldor, Executive Director of Washington Indian Gaming Association (WIGA)

Nonetheless, the Governor’s decision to back a tribal-only sportsbook model over a comprehensive industry which gives commercial card rooms a share has drawn criticism from non-tribal operators.

Shortly after the state Legislature passed HB-2638, Maverick Gaming’s chief executive officer Eric Persson – who has previously vowed to fight tribal-only sports betting in court – wrote a letter to Inslee. In the letter, Persson pointed to the last-minute inclusion of an emergency clause provision which removed a requirement that the bill receive 60 percent of the vote via ballot referendum:

“The issue of sports betting is not just about commercial gaming and the sovereign rights of Tribal governments, for which I have deep respect.

It is about how to create economic opportunities for all Washingtonians in Tribal and non-Tribal communities alike.”

After the Governor signed the bill, however, Persson declined to offer further comment to local media outlets.

Last year, Maverick Gaming went on an acquisition spree which saw the Reno-based company purchase more than half of Washington’s commercial card rooms.

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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