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Washington Sports Betting Bill Passed Into Law

by Danny Maiorca

Bill passed, but there could still be a long way to go

Washington’s tribal casinos will be given the chance to offer sports betting after Governor Jay Inslee approved ESHB 2638 on Wednesday.

The bill went through the House with a vote of 83 for and 14 against, following a 34-15 Senate vote.

Before any of Washington’s 29 federally-recognized tribes can offer this vertical, sports betting compacts must be negotiated with the state. Those discussions are expected to get underway once the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak has passed.

Rebecca Kaldor, Executive Director of the Washington Indian Gaming Association (WIGA), expressed her delight at the bill being passed – especially given the current situation.

“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.”

Could legal action be on its way?

One opponent who has been vocal against the legislation’s conditions is Eric Persson. Persson is the CEO of Maverick Gaming, a company that owns 19 of the state’s 40+ cardrooms.

He has pushed for his own bill in the past, which was unsuccessful. If that had been passed, sports betting would have been permitted beyond tribal casinos. Feeling that a more unified approach is better for the state, he said the below.

“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.”

He continued:

“All of the polling we’ve done statewide, the feedback is really clear. It shouldn’t be a monopoly and it should be taxed.

“Those taxed dollars should go toward great social causes. That’s what the overwhelming majority of Washingtonians say.”

A call for public vote

On March 11th, the Maverick Gaming CEO wrote to Inslee asking that he removed the emergency clause and called a public vote.

While the Governor has done this with previous bills, he chose not to with this one.

In the sports betting amendment, the ‘emergency clause’ is defined as follows:

“This act is necessary for the immediate preservation of the public peace, health, or safety, or support of the state government and its existing public institutions, and takes effect immediately.” 

To change a gaming law in Washington, a voter approval of 60% is usually needed. Persson believes that legislators are choosing to skip a referendum because “they know they have no path to 60%”.

Persson has also threatened a lawsuit against the legislation in the past, saying: “I have the money, the time and the guts to fight it, so let’s do it.”

After ESHB 2638 was approved, Persson declined the opportunity to comment.

What is and isn’t allowed under the passed legislation?

Sports betting will be exclusively for tribal casinos, meaning that commercial operators are unable to join the party for now.

Mobile betting will be restricted to tribal casino premises only. Across the US, critics have argued that this form of wagering encourages minors to get involved in gambling.

Betting on overseas leagues, Olympics, World Cups, US professional leagues and esports will all be permitted through the new legislation.

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