Feb 10, 2023 - Politics

A renewed push to expand sports betting in Washington

Sports betting laws, by state
Data: American Gaming Association; Cartogram: Axios Visuals

Sunday’s Super Bowl in Phoenix will be the first held in a jurisdiction with legalized sports betting, an industry that is booming nationally.

  • But in Washington state, such gambling is only legal while on the premises of a tribal casino — a restriction some are pushing to change.
  • What's happening: A bill in Washington's Legislature would allow private card rooms — not just tribal operations — to run sports betting pools.
  • If the measure passes, people could bet on games while at dozens of non-tribal card rooms and racetracks licensed to operate in the state.

Why it matters: The bill is tied to an ongoing disagreement about whether tribes should be the only ones allowed to run legal sports betting operations in Washington.

  • One local company, Kirkland-based Maverick Gaming, has filed a lawsuit challenging what it calls the tribal monopoly on sports betting. That case is pending in federal court.

What they're saying: "I think it's just a fairness issue," said state Sen. Curtis King (R-Yakima), who is sponsoring the measure to expand sports betting beyond tribal casinos.

  • He said that by not legalizing sports betting at more locations, the state is missing out on tens of millions of dollars in revenue annually.
  • Under King's bill, the state would charge a 10% tax on gross revenue from sports wagers, which would raise money that could help pay for other state programs.

Details: Under the legislation, people wouldn't be able to bet online from home with fantasy sports apps such as FanDuel or DraftKings. They'd have to place their bets while at the card room or racetrack, like what tribal casinos require.

  • Those limits are enforced by geofencing, technology that detects a person's physical location and blocks attempts to access sports wagering from unauthorized places.

New card rooms wouldn't be able to start up and offer sports betting, either.

  • Instead, only those licensed to operate as of December 2022 would benefit — a caveat intended to address concerns about a broad expansion of legalized gambling.
  • "It's very narrow," state Rep. Amy Walen (D-Kirkland), who is sponsoring the bill in the House, said of the measure.
  • The proposal was introduced in late January but has yet to be scheduled for a hearing.

The other side: Rebecca George, the executive director of the Washington Indian Gaming Association, wrote in a statement to Axios that the state's current system "strikes the right balance" and has "minimized the negative social consequences that can sometimes result from gambling."

  • She noted that Washington voters have rejected past efforts to expand gambling.

However, Maverick Gaming CEO Eric Persson argued in a statement shared with Axios that restricting access to sports betting pools encourages people to place bets illegally.

What we're watching: Persson said Maverick's card rooms will eventually offer sports betting, either through state legislation or because of a federal court ruling.

  • He said the company plans to take its lawsuit all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.
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