Washington Is First State to Legalize Sports Betting in 2020

  • Activity now available after Governor Inslee signed ESHB 2638 into law
  • Only tribal gaming operators can open retail and on-site mobile sportsbooks
  • Tribes acknowledge need for betting revenue to fund critical services amid pandemic
  • State's card rooms in opposition, likely to legally challenge new legislation
businessperson in suit signing a document at a desk
Washington state now has legal tribal sports betting after its governor signed bill ESHB 2638 into law. [Image: Shutterstock.com]

Only tribal sportsbooks allowed

Washington state now has legal sports betting after Governor Jay Inslee signed ESHB 2638 into law on Wednesday. As part of this bill, only tribal gambling operators will be able to launch retail sportsbooks. The tribes can also offer mobile sports betting, but only within the grounds of a tribal casino. 

This makes Washington the first state to legalize the activity in 2020. Both South Dakota and Maryland passed legalization bills this year, but they are pending a public vote on the issue in the November ballot. 

Positive response from tribes

Tribal gaming operators in Washington state were pleased with the signing of the sports betting bill. The executive director of the Washington Indian Gaming Association (WIGA), Rebecca Kaldor, released a statement following the announcement. She said, “We thank Governor Inslee for joining bipartisan majorities in the legislature to pass this careful and thoughtful approach to sports betting.”

now more important than ever in the wake of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic

Kaldor added that the revenue generated from sports betting would help fund critical services within tribal communities in the state. This is now more important than ever in the wake of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. A massive number of tribal casinos across the country have had to shut down as a result of the crisis. 

Last week, the National Indian Gaming Association (NIGA) called on the US federal government to provide financial aid to the country’s tribal gaming facilities amid the pandemic. It is looking for a relief package worth $18bn.

Support for legal sports betting

There was a lot of support for legal sports betting in Washington among the legislature. ESHB 2638 easily got passage through the House after an overwhelming vote of support of 83-14. The Senate gave its approval for the bill with a 34-15 vote in favor of legalization.

However, an emergency provision was still needed as part of this bill. This would allow the issue to not need a voter referendum like in other states. The clause deems that “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.”

Potential issue on the horizon

The state’s card rooms were the main opponent of sports betting legalization in Washington state. They want in on the action of opening sportsbooks. 

flawed logic and there is no emergency”

The CEO of Maverick Gaming, Eric Persson, was previously committed to filing a lawsuit in the event of the legislation getting passage. The company is the main operator of card rooms in the region, owning 19 of the 44 facilities. It looks like it will be challenging the emergency clause in particular. 

Persson was reported saying that the provision is “flawed logic and there is no emergency.” Maverick Gaming is of the belief that with litigation, it is likely that the legislation will be thrown out.