Washington State became the first state to legalize sports betting in 2020 when Governor Jay Inslee signed ESHB 2638 into law Wednesday afternoon. The new law allows for sports wagering at tribal casinos only, and on professional and college teams, though betting on Washington State teams is banned. The bill does not have a mobile component.
The new law is the first in the U.S. to broadly legalize tribal-only sports betting, and could be a model for other states to follow. North Carolina lawmakers did legalize tribal-only sports betting last year, but only at two casinos, and tribal casinos in Michigan can offer sports betting, both retail and online, under a bill that legalized sports betting for tribes and commercial casinos. There is also tribal sports betting in several other states, including Mississippi, New Mexico, and Oregon, but new laws were not required in those states.
Legal sports betting is coming to Washington at a time when no U.S. professional sports are being contested due to the COVID-19 crisis. The law includes an emergency clause, which means the Washington Gaming Commission can get started on the work of developing rules and licensing immediately, though there is no firm timeline for when the first sportsbook would take a wager.
WA, OR only Western states to legalize
Washington’s law is clearly a nod from state lawmakers to the tribes and an effort to legalize sports betting through a narrow pathway.
“Governor Inslee’s signature completes a nearly two-year legislative process that revealed strong bipartisan support for the cautious approach to sports betting authorized in HB 2638,” Kevin Zenishek, executive director of casino operations for the Northern Quest Casino, which is owned and run by the Kalispel tribe, told Sports Handle via e-mail. “Bills related to gaming need a 60% majority in our state, but HB 2638 amazingly drew the support of 80% of legislators.
Tribes always believed that the “Gamble Everywhere” approach of unlimited online sports betting in every corner of our state was a bad idea, and we are relieved that state leaders agreed.”
Washington joins neighbor Oregon, which offers mobile sports betting through its lottery and at a handful of tribal locations, as the only Western states to legalize since the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act fell in 2018.
They legalized sports betting at tribal casinos in Washington at a time when all the casinos are closed and there are no sports to bet on.
I’m not complaining, this is progressive thinking.
But also this is so us.
— alexSSN (@alexSSN) March 25, 2020
The bill met little resistance from lawmakers during the legislative process, but there was opposition from the card-room company Maverick Gaming, a Nevada-based corporation that purchased 19 Washington card rooms last summer. Maverick Gaming argued throughout the process that sports wagering in Washington should be more accessible, that a mobile component is key, and that allowing more sportsbooks would translate into more revenue for the state.
As it stands, Washington State will not see any tax revenue from the tribes, who throughout the process promised to continue to funnel money into the state economy through social and education programs and by staffing their new sportsbooks. Tribes operate gaming under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act and as sovereign nations cannot be taxed by state governments.
“We look forward to negotiating compacts that will limit sports betting to brick-and-mortar casinos, promote responsible gaming, and keep the benefits of gaming here in our state, to be shared by all Washingtonians,” Zenishek said.