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COVID, Dem co-sponsor give latest bid to expand gambling in WA new life

With many wants and needs for Washington’s economic future right now, it looks like lawmakers may be more open to some things they weren’t ready to move on last year, among them, the expansion of sports betting beyond tribal casinos to also include cardrooms and racetracks.

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It was a failed effort championed by Nevada-based Maverick gaming owner Eric Persson last year, who tried, unsuccessfully, to convince state lawmakers at the time that the state could benefit from tax dollars the expansion would produce. While Persson is trying to do the same this year, there are a few things that have changed since last time.

“The coronavirus impacted not just the state of Washington, but the entire world and we think that that $100 million in potential tax revenue is very salient. It’s very salient for Olympia, I think it’ll go towards a lot of good in this state,” said Persson.

The odds were stacked against Persson’s effort last year, especially with it coming so soon after the U.S. Supreme Court decision that cleared the way for legalized sports betting outside of Nevada. But things are different this time around, as Persson and his team have worked with city and state leaders about what this bill would and would not do, and the benefits it could have for the state both long and short term.

“We have a lot of momentum, and we’re just going to keep pushing forward and we’re going to keep working in the state. We’re going to keep being a great partner and we’re going to keep pushing for sports,” he said.

More Democrats are open to the idea this time around too, Senate Democratic Floor Leader Marko Llias co-sponsoring the newly-proposed bill.

“The amount of support we’ve gained through both the Olympia awareness as well as the statewide awareness is growing exponentially. You know, it’s no secret — we submitted a bill and ultimately, we weren’t successful. But in the time since we’ve been continuing to work with a lot of local mayors, a lot of the representation, we partner with Teamsters, 117, we think we’re going to have a broader support from labor,” said Persson.

“We are the largest private party to partner with the Teamsters in the state of Washington,” he noted – a feat he’s not shy about saying makes him proud.

Part of the reason for that support and growing support among policy makers is the way Maverick takes care of its workers, including good paying jobs.

“We have over 2,000 team members making an average salary above $75,000,” he said, noting many more of those jobs would be created should the bill pass.

As a kid from Hoquiam, nothing would please Persson more than being able to help lift his hometown state out of the economic devastation the pandemic has caused.

“I love the state of Washington and I love Maverick gaming, and I believe that what we have is an opportunity to give what constituents want across the state and do a lot of good in a lot of different ways,” explained Persson.

“100 million bucks is 100 million bucks. It can go towards so many different things and in this time in this environment, it’s needed,” he added.

Here’s what he expects will happen should SB 5212 pass.

“What it is we’re proposing (is) a couple different things. One is $100,000 site license per licensee — there’s 45 cardrooms in the state, that’d be four and a half million bucks,” he explained.

“And then on top of it, it ends up being a 20% tax rate, or 10% is going to the state and 10% is going to the local constituents and or local cities,” he continued. “And that’s estimated to be around $100 million a biennium, so around $50 million a year.”

Some of the concerns that got in the way of the proposal last year included allowing online mobile betting, but that part of the bills has been removed this time, taking online sports betting off the table for the time being..

The language in this version caps sports betting to only the existing card rooms in the state, addressing concerns that this could lead to more of them opening.

Should Washington state allow sports betting?

As for potential risk for problem gambling:

“We’re market leaders in the state of Washington and at this point that’s unquestioned, so for example, we’ve created a data self-exclusion database. So if you come into one of our card rooms, and you’ve identified or we’ve identified you as having an issue, you are not able to come to any of our card rooms,” he explained, adding they hope the Native American tribes will join with them in that regard.

“We hope the Native Americans properties will opt into our database so that when someone self excludes from any casino or card room in the state of Washington, they won’t be able to just venue-shop and continue their issue. We know that is less than 2% of the population, but still, that’s 2% of the people who end up having an issue and so we want to be responsible.

Maverick donated nearly $200,000, to the Problem Gaming Commission this year, which Persson says is likely the largest donation they’ve ever had.

“We’re committed on this cause — like for the 98% of the customers come in, they spend about 50 bucks, we’re the Cheers bar and they’re there to socialize, and to talk to the dealers and talk to their friends. But for the people who it is an issue for, we want them to get help, we want them to be responsible, and so from our perspective, having a statewide self-exclusion policy would be a win-win,” Persson stressed.

Should the bill be approved, the new law would not kick in until after the current government compact agreements are worked out with the Tribes who got the right to allow sports betting in a bill passed last session.

Follow Hanna Scott on Twitter or email her here

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