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Several Sports Betting Bills Introduced in Washington State

With the Washington State Legislature entering an abbreviated 60-day session, no less than four sports betting bills were introduced last week.

Only days after the legislative session began on January 13, the four bills – which are really two competing bills introduced as carbon copies within both the state House of Representatives and the state Senate – began circulating for first readings and committee assignments.

Legislation Allows Casinos, Card Clubs, and Tracks to Run Sportsbooks

House Bill 2478 is sponsored by state representative Brandon Vick (R-18), while its companion legislation Senate Bill 6277 is sponsored by state senator Curtis King (R-14) and Ann Rivers (R-18). Under the bills, Washington’s casinos and card rooms – both commercially and tribally owned – would join horseracing tracks as potential venues operating licensed sportsbooks.

Washington is home to 21 federally recognized Native American tribes that operate 29 full-scale casinos, and the Evergreen State also allows 21 commercial operators to run “social gaming” card rooms.

Maverick Gaming – the largest local commercial card room operator with 19 venues statewide – has already endorsed the HB-2478 / SB-6277 package. In a statement issued by Maverick Gaming chief executive officer Eric Persson, the company threw its political clout with policymakers behind the bills:

“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.”

If passed, the HB-2478 / SB-6277 combo would also allow licensed operators to contract with third-party online / mobile sportsbook providers.

The bill also includes an outright ban on all collegiate athletics involving local universities and schools. That prohibition extends to sporting events which take place in Washington, which rules out wagering on national tournaments like the early rounds of the “March Madness” college basketball tournament which take place in Spokane.

Prospective sportsbook operators would pay an upfront licensing fee of $500,000, before having their gross revenue taxed at 10 percent annually.

In an interview with Sports Handle, Vick explained that his bill’s wide scope was designed to stimulate debate on the regulatory intricacies inherent to expanding the gambling industry:

“I want the full discussion to take place.

And for political reasons, if we have to narrow down, that’s great. That’s how politics works, right?

But how can you move a bill that is big, a bill that is going to have a lot of people pro and con, and avoid as many objections as possible at the beginning?”

HB-2478 was assigned to the House Commerce and Gaming Committee, while SB-6277 was landed in the Senate Labor and Commerce Committee.

Second Set of Bills Would Limit All Betting to Tribal Lands

Lawmakers who want to see Washington adopt legal sports betting in a more limited fashion will likely be attracted to House Bill 2638 and Senate Bill 6394 as alternatives.

These companion bills would allow only tribal gaming operators to offer sportsbooks, leaving commercial card rooms and racetracks out of the loop. Additionally, the tribes would only offer online / mobile wagers to be placed by bettors who are physically located on tribal reservation land.

The bills were introduced by a bipartisan coalition consisting of 20 lawmakers on behalf of tribes who want to maintain their current quasi-monopoly over full-scale gambling.

That would effectively box companies like Maverick Gaming out of any sports betting boom in Washington, an outcome Persson told the Seattle Times that he’s eager to discuss with tribes.

Despite his willingness to open a dialogue, however, Persson told the newspaper that talks with tribal leaders have been lukewarm to say the least:

“While there have been conversations, I wouldn’t say that they’ve progressed.

I wouldn’t even say that they’ve been incredibly productive.”

We’ve never had what I would really consider a rather robust discussion.”