Sports betting could be available in Washington in time for the NFL season

Jun 11, 2021, 12:42 PM | Updated: 1:25 pm
Sports betting...
Sports betting could be coming to tribal casinos in Washington in time for the NFL season this fall. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
(Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

The years-long effort to get legalized sports betting up and running in Washington took a major step forward Thursday, with the state gambling commission’s unanimous approval of amendments to 15 tribal compacts. The re-negotiated agreements lay out how the sports betting would work at tribal casinos should Gov. Jay Inslee and the federal government give their blessing.

More state tribes inch closer to sports betting as new concerns arise

“Wagering for sports will be at the sports book — think of that as like a lounge within the gaming facility,” said Julie Lies, the Tribal Liaison for the WGC. “Patrons or players would be able to place bets on kiosks that may be in the gaming facilities on the gaming floor or on the premises.

“So that’s outside an event center or in a restaurant,” she added. “Then there’s also a mobile component that’s within the premises of the gaming facility, and then that area is also going to be geofenced.”

Concerns around mobile gaming had been one of the main arguments against legalizing sports wagering, so much so, that it was dropped from a failed bill that would have allowed existing card rooms in the state to run sports betting.

But with tribes revealing plans for a geofence — basically a virtual border where the sports betting app will cease working once a person crosses out of its boundaries — and their strong history of running responsible gambling operations, the WGC felt more confident in the limited use of mobile sports wagering.

Several tribal leaders spoke about the mutual benefits tribal gaming. And while casinos have provided an economic boom for tribes, there is still much work to be done, said Jaison Elkins, chairman of the Muckleshoot Tribe.

“The effects of poverty, neglect and disease are not easily overcome,” Elkins said. “We use every dollar from gaming.”

Shoalwater Bay tribal chair Charlene Nelson said the tribe needs money to continue moving tribal members off flood-prone areas to higher ground.

Carol Evans, chair of the Spokane Tribe, said additional money will help the tribe preserve its traditional language.

And those benefits are not just for the tribes.

“Dollars that came from gaming went to start building infrastructure, governments creating more health and human resource opportunities, creating more roads, water lines, and much needed development through long years of unmet need,” explained Tulalip Tribe Vice Chair Glen Gobin. “When the tribes started to receive its own revenue stream, it could decide how best to use these dollars to take care of the needs of its people — you’ve seen dramatic growth since that time.”

“For those that can remember back to 1983, within Indian country, you can see the poverty and the living conditions that were in place because of that lack of opportunities,” he continued. “And the changes that have taken place in the last almost 40 years, the growth that has taken place. If you step back and you look at the growth that has taken place in the surrounding communities, as a result of that, Washington state has benefited greatly through this.”

Those benefits are wide-ranging, according to tribes.

“Gaming is over a $3 billion industry in Washington state, Indian gaming, probably near 100% of those dollars stay in the state recycling over and over again,” Gobin explained. “Oftentimes, tribes are the largest employers in their local communities, and combined with tribal-wide Indian gaming, we’re the seventh largest employer within the state. Most of those are non-Indian employees, all receiving good wages, good benefits, good retirements to their 401Ks, and medical plans that oftentimes are unequal.”

“With the implementation of a sports wagering amendment, this only creates more opportunity for more jobs, which grows that economic growth,” he added.

The commission voted 7-0 to send the compact amendments to Gov. Inslee, clearing a major step to making sports wagering a reality in Washington.

“It’s really pretty remarkable that we’ve gotten to this point, and 15 tribes have now had a compact amendment approved that’s going to the governor’s office — I think that is quite momentous,” said Gambling Commissioner Chair Bud Sizemore.

Tulalip Tribe reaches deal for first sports betting contract in Washington

Others on the panel were equally excited about developments, but also urged caution.

“This is a one of the biggest steps in gambling in recent state history. Development of our casinos is one of those steps, but certainly sports betting is a major, major change in direction in gambling in our state, and I think we all need to recognize that it’s a brave new world here,” warned commission member and Democratic state Sen. Steve Conway.

“We’re going to be working with a whole new different group of people in gambling and with the problem gaming issues associated with that,” Conway added, urging everyone to be vigilant and keep an eye out for potential unintended consequences should this cross the finish line.

If the governor gives his blessing, the federal government will need to approve the compacts in order for tribes to open their sports books.

The commission hopes to get that approval and wrap up the remaining work by the end of July, so that it’s up and running in time for the NFL season.

Private card rooms that had pushed the Legislature to OK a bill that would have allowed only existing card rooms to also offer sports wagering are disappointed with the “tribes only” policy, especially with the inclusion of mobile gaming, and will likely continue to push bills to add them to the legal options for sports betting statewide.

The Legislature approved the “tribal only” plan in 2020 in the wake of a 2018 U.S. Supreme Court decision, where justices ruled that a law that had blocked most states from sports betting was unconstitutional, clearing the way for states pass their own rules.

The bill passed by the Legislature would allow gambling on major league professional sports, the Olympic Games. and other international events. There would also be betting on college sports, excepting collegiate games involving in-state schools. There will be no online or mobile gaming options outside the boundaries of tribal casinos.

Follow Hanna Scott on Twitter or email her here

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Sports betting could be available in Washington in time for the NFL season