Resistance to Proposed Bill in Washington State

A recently proposed bill in Washington State would ban sports betting anywhere other than a tribal casino. One local operator, Maverick Gaming, is threatening costly opposition, vowing to spend “$20 [million] to $30 million” to ensure they can continue to operate in the state. The bill comes after a surprising upset last month in a vote that banned sports betting outside of tribal locations. As of today, Maverick Gaming runs 19 card rooms in Washington State.

The waterfront in Seattle, Washington.

Washington State is known for its strict gambling laws. ©Garrett Morrow/Pexels

Shifting Favor Towards Tribal Casinos in Washington State

The decision to outlaw sports betting at non-tribal locations in Washington State came in the middle of February, a controversial and — to outsiders — sudden vote made by the Washington State Senate in the middle of the night. The bill, also known as HB 2638, would also affect mobile betting in Washington State.

According to analysts, the vote came as a surprise to many including Maverick Gaming CEO Eric Persson, who was quick to threaten legal action in opposition to the bipartisan decision. Now, with a proposed second bill to concretize the decision to keep sports betting to the tribal casinos, Persson is taking action.

Eric Persson is Playing to Win

Maverick Gaming CEO Erik Persson is a bit of an interesting figure to take such profound offense at the new bills passed and up for a vote in Washington: in addition to being a native of Washington State, he is also a member of the Shoalwater Bay tribe. Still, it is clear that Maverick Gaming does not fall under the category of tribal gaming.

In a statement to The Seattle Times, Persson stated that his company is “prepared” to spend $20 to $30 million during the 2020 election cycle to fight the bills and maintain their robust business in Washington State: their 19 locations state-wide employ, according to Persson, 2,200 people.

Persson went on to name some of the uses of the millions he is planning to pour into the fight against Washington Senate bills HB 2368 and HB 2478. Said Persson,

“Nothing’s off the table. We’ll do everything we can. Litigation, lobbying, TV ads, whatever it takes … “

According to Persson, the bills defy the interests of not just his own company but of citizens of Washington State overall. He believes that a reorganization of legalities regarding sports betting in this way will create a tribal monopoly on sports betting, generating revenue that will not be taxed.

Additionally, Persson cites potential missteps made by the Washington State Senate in passing their mid-February bill: namely, that HB 2368 was filed as an “emergency motion,” which instantly overrules any public referendum on the vote. In this way, the vote stays just within the government, and Governor Jay Inslee will decide.

This is unusual, as, according to Persson, it is usually required for gaming laws to get 60% approval from the public before being made law. In his belief, this is the crucial element which will solidify his fight against the bipartisan bills sweeping the Washington Senate in favor of tribal gaming.

Washington State: Strict on Gambling

In fact, the state in the Pacific Northwest of the United States is known for its strict gambling rules compared to the other 49 states. Today, even just placing a bet online remains a felony — though, admittedly, no one has ever been persecuted for doing so.

Some have been sensing a shifting tide in Washington State, one warming to gambling and the sources of taxable revenue it generates. That’s probably why Maverick Gaming acquired close to 20 card rooms across the state, a decision which some believe was made specifically in the hopes of legal sports betting within them.

Like in another West Coast state, California, casinos are illegal outside of tribal locations. The 29 working casinos running in Washington State are owned and operated by Native American tribes, and any gambling establishments in the state operating outside of this jurisdiction are known as “card rooms.”

In a distinction from casinos, these “card rooms” are not allowed to have traditional casino fare like slot machines or familiar, classic table games like craps and roulette. Instead, though, they are allowed to offer certain, regulated games which include blackjack and other legal card games.

Even the passed bill, HB 2368, establishes strict parameters for what constitutes legal sports betting. For example, betters — now allowed only to place their bets at tribal casinos — can only place bets on college sports, not on upcoming games which involve teams from public or private colleges in Washington.

According to Representative Strom Peterson, a Republican championing the new bills, the bills designed to rein in gambling even further by allowing sports betting only at tribal locations is made because the tribes “have the experience to contain the problem of addiction and thwart the threat of corruption.”

Maverick: A Unique Stake in the Matter

In the entire state of Washington, there are 44 card rooms — meaning Maverick Gaming owns close to half of these. What’s more, most tribal gaming locations are located far outside of city centers — as opposed to Maverick Gaming locations, which tend to be within metropolitan hubs.

It’s clear what the state’s government is working to do, then: by making gaming establishments out of the way for casual gamblers, or those who may be prone to developing addictive behavior, relegating gambling only to far-out locations will make daily gambling habits difficult to acquire.

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A landscape with mountains, a lake, and evergreen trees in Washington State.

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