WA Tribes Begin Sports Bet Negotiations

Four tribes in Washington state have begun negotiations with local gambling regulators to begin the process of offering sports betting in their casinos. Sports betting was approved by lawmakers in March of this year, though controversially, betting is restricted to in-person wagers at Native American casinos.

NFL game in play.

Four Washington tribes have started discussions with the Washington State Gambling Commission to negotiate the terms to offer sports betting. ©skeeze/Pixabay

The Washington State Gambling Commission (WSGC) has confirmed that the four tribes in negotiations are the Kalispel, Snoqualmie, Suquamish, and Tulalip tribes. These represent only a handful of Washington’s 22 different tribal gaming groups that operate 29 casinos in the state.

It is unclear when sports betting will launch in Washington, with the state’s casinos still shut down since the coronavirus outbreak shuttered non-essential businesses in March. The closures have severely impacted the speed at which tribes and regulators can address the agreements, signaling a possible 2021 launch for betting.

The passing of sports betting bill HB 2638 by the Washington legislature has meant that all tribes wanting to create sportsbooks will need to renegotiate their gaming compacts with the state. This is expected to be a time-consuming process, as numerous facets of regulations will need to be reviewed and agreed upon by different government bodies.

According to the WSGC director David Trujillo, there are five government groups working on launching sports betting in the state. He highlighted the team’s goal to not try to create a unique sports betting market, but rather look at how other states have launched sports betting and learn from it.

“Gambling Commission staff are familiar with the timelines and will be realistic even if that realism is not what people want to hear. Sports wagering is the most significant change to the gambling landscape in our state in over two decades. We do not take this responsibility lightly. Buckle up, it is going to be a fun ride.”David Trujillo, Director, Washington State Gambling Commission in a letter to commissioners reported by the Kitsap Sun

The current negotiations will cover everything from the terms of licensing and enforcement, how the tribes intend to secure the integrity of betting, and the issue of problem gambling prevention. As some of the largest tribes in the state, the results of the discussions will undoubtedly impact the remaining sportsbook license applicants.

Once compact are agreed upon, tribal casinos will need extra time to install sports betting infrastructure to offer in-person and on-site mobile betting. While the coronavirus casino closures have certainly delayed the Washington sports betting rollout, the simultaneous suspension of many sports leagues takes some of the pressure to launch off.

The Details of the Bill

When the sports betting bill passed, Washington became the first state to limit sports betting to tribal groups. Due to the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act not requiring tribal groups to pay revenues to the state, Washington will not collect tax on sports betting.

Instead, the tribes promised to help the state by staffing new members for their sportsbooks and by funding state and education programs. Lawmakers, who were generally interested in keeping sports betting from being offered throughout the whole state, passed the measure by an 80 percent majority.

There are a number of requirements that tribal groups must adhere to when offering bets, though. While bets can be made on major professional sports, overseas leagues, and global sporting tournaments such as the Olympics and the World Cup, bets on in-state college teams and minor leagues are prohibited.

Additionally, mobile betting will also be limited to apps that can only be used on reservations. According to Kevin Zenishek, the executive director of casino operations for the Kalispel Tribe’s Northern Quest Casino, the group is currently in discussions with five well-known sports betting platforms to operate its sportsbook.

Tribal groups are set to benefit from the new industry, with the market expected to generate tens of millions of dollars every year. However, not everyone is happy with the limited availability of sports betting. Eric Persson, the CEO of local gaming group Maverick Gaming has threatened a lawsuit over the issue.

Persson claims that the state and tribes have failed to immediately enact the bill and introduce sports betting, breaking the emergency clause in the bill that skipped needing voter approval to enact it. Maverick Gaming operates 19 of the state’s 44 cardrooms and pushed for the right to offer sportsbooks before the current bill was passed.

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Capitol building in Olympia Washington.

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