Washington State Senate Approves Tribal Sports Betting Bill

  • Minor amendments must be approved before the end of the legislative session on March 12
  • Senate voted 34-15 in favor, exceeded the required 60 percent to pass gambling legislation
  • Bill authorizes sports gaming in the state's Native American tribal casinos
male stamping 'approved' on paper
The Washington state Senate has voted 34-15 in favor of an emergency bill that authorizes sports gaming in Native American tribal casinos. [Image: Shutterstock.com]

Emergency bill approved

The Washington state Senate has resoundingly approved one of the biggest forms of gambling expansion the state has seen for many a year.

A vote was held late on Thursday night to approve an emergency bill that will allow Native American casinos in the state to offer sports betting.

will have to reapproved in the House before the end of the current legislative session

As a result of small amendments in the Senate, the bill will have to reapproved in the House before the end of the current legislative session on March 12. However, this approval should be very straightforward. All being well, Gov. Jay Inslee will then sign the bill into law.

Passed with ease

The Senate voted 34-15 in favor of passing this bill. This means the bill easily exceeded the required 60 percent to pass gambling legislation.

The vote did not take place until 11pm on Thursday after much debate. The main sticking points were the bypassing of a public vote and providing exclusivity to tribes when it was a rapidly growing sector across the nation.

There are 29 tribes in the state with gambling facilities and they have been running these operations for more than three decades. Representatives of these tribes were happy after hearing the result of the Senate vote.

Heavily debated

Emergency House Bill 2638 was the cause of great debate. The commercial card room facilities across the state believe that their exclusion from this bill will result in the state losing out on an additional $50m in tax revenue each year.

As a result of an emergency provision to the bill in February, a public referendum will not be needed to allow this form of sports betting. If this vote would have gone ahead, at least 60% voter approval would be needed.

Opponents to this bill are still planning to oppose it in any way possible. One of the most vocal of these opponents is Maverick Gaming, the main operator of card rooms in the region. The company is promising to spend tens of millions of dollars to block this bill.

promising to spend tens of millions of dollars to block this bill

Maverick Gaming CEO Eric Persson spoke about his disappointment of the bill getting Senate approval. He said: “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.”

Washington’s gambling stance

Washington has historically been one of the more restrictive states when it comes to gambling expansion. Tribal gaming has seen ups and downs over the years. It is the only state in the country that does not receive any tax revenue from these operations. 

A revenue-sharing deal worth about $140m was in the works in 2005, but this was killed by then state Gov. Christine Gregoire. A clause in legislation ended up allowing tribes to operate gambling facilities without having to contribute any revenue to the state.

Gregoire said the reason was to prevent more gambling expansion in the region. However, at a later date, it was revealed that she had received $650,000 in campaign donations from tribal interests in the state that were opposing the revenue agreement. 

Progress of this bill

It was during the 2019 legislative session that the makeup of this latest sports betting bill has been in the works. Another bill was under consideration last year, but it failed to make its way out of the committee stage. However, this latest bill was sponsored by Rep. Strom Peterson and rapidly made progress through the House in February. 

Peterson believes that the reason for the swift approval was because there were concerns that any more intervening by rival interests would result in no gambling expansion in the state for years to come.

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