Sports betting is now officially legal in Washington

Cvetanka Cvetanovska | Published 27 Mar 2020, 1:07 p.m.

We have recently reported on the Washington sports betting initiative and discussed the economic opportunities this bill might generate. Happy to say that sports betting is now legal throughout the state of Washington after Governor Jay Inslee signed the sports wagering bill this Wednesday. This legislation will allow sport betting on a wide range of sporting events including college sports, professional sports, Olympic and World Cup competitions.

However, betting activities won’t occur any time soon, mainly because of two reasons. The first one obviously is because all betting venues are now closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak. This happened because all worldwide sports leagues have cancelled their upcoming activities. The second reason has to do with legislation and regulatory challenges. As reported, retail sports betting will be legal only at tribal casinos. Mobile sports betting is allowed with this bill, emphasising that all bets must be placed on tribal land.

A rising opportunity for players in the state

According to Governor Inslee, this is a great opportunity for players in the state to participate in a new gaming activity that is safe and regulated. Nationally, the sports betting industry faces major challenges in this period due to recent events. Sports representatives are seriously considering the transfer to the eSports betting platform as a reasonable alternative.

Rebecca Kaldor, the Washington Indian Gaming Association executive noted that all casinos in the US are temporarily closed in order to stop the virus transmission. A similar decision was made by the UK Government this week, where they enforced the closing of all land-based casino venues in the UK. Kaldor added that casinos provide the main source of revenue to tribal governments for a wide range of social service, economic and educational development programs.  As they recover from the situation, this law will help the tribal governments fund the services that will get them back up on their feet.

Sports Betting to be exclusive to tribal casinos

The decision to restrict sports betting exclusively to the premises of tribal casinos was approved by the majority of the Senate representatives. Meanwhile, non-tribal card rooms known as mini-casinos and horse racing operators pressed the lawmakers for a chance of broader legislation that would allow sports betting off reservations.

Washington becomes the 21st state in the US with legalised sports betting following Michigan and Virginia. There are currently 29 casino tribes in the state of Washington. Each tribe must negotiate their own compacts with the state before they start to offer bets. Other states are also waiting for approval, but there is hope that they will be able to launch before the end of 2020. Tribes in Washington will need to form a partnership with sports betting companies in order to run their sportsbooks.

Washington state lawmakers chose a more limited strategy than other states that have legalised sports betting. There will be no available online or mobile betting options unlike in neighbouring Oregon where the state lottery earns profits through a sports betting app.

By limiting sports betting only on tribal lands, Washington might miss a large tax revenue opportunity. Financial experts had estimated that the state could generate close to $50 million per year if they allowed sports betting to other non-tribal casinos and card rooms throughout the state.

Maverick Gaming might file a lawsuit

Maverick Gaming which recently acquired 19 non-tribal card rooms in Washington is not happy with the law limitations. The CEO of Maverick Eric Persson expressed his opinion on the matter, stating that the sports betting question is not about commercial gaming and the advantages of tribal casinos. The real question here is how to create economic opportunities for all residents, both in tribal and non-tribal communities. 

Now that the bill has passed, it is quite possible that Maverick Gaming will press charges and file a lawsuit to prevent the law from going to effect. They have a history of supporting the sports betting laws in the state. 

However, they weren’t the ones that ultimately got the approval in the latest bill. Maverick Gaming was in support of both tribal casinos and card rooms being able to offer sports betting. They also wanted mobile betting and apps to be legal throughout the territory. Even though they refrain from pressing charges, it may be prudent to look out on the horizon for any legal challenges. A lot of money and investments are at stake for this provider’s nineteen card rooms in the state. One thing is certain – if Persson intends to initiate proceedings against this law, it is very unlikely that it would have an effect, as tribal casinos will unite to defend their interests.