On Tuesday in Washington state, U.S. District Court Judge David Estudillo dismissed a federal lawsuit filed by card room operator Maverick Gaming that seeks to dismantle a tribal monopoly in the state and clear the way for commercial sports wagering and other forms of gambling.
While Estudillo’s ruling is a legal setback for Maverick, the company, which operates more than 20 card rooms in Washington, has long maintained that it expected the case to ultimately make its way to the U.S. Supreme Court. In a brief statement sent to Sports Handle on Wednesday morning, Maverick CEO Eric Persson said, “We expect that this will be resolved by the Supreme Court of the United States and we will appeal yesterday’s decision.”
Persson is a member of Washington’s Shoalwater Bay Tribe, which filed the motion that led to Estudillo’s dismissal of the case in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington.
“It pained us to have to legally oppose a member of our tribe, but Maverick’s case, if successful, would have irreparably harmed historically marginalized tribal communities, and would have run counter to the will of the legislature and the general public,” Charlene Nelson, chair of the Shoalwater Bay Tribe, said in a press release.
While the Shoalwater tribe is not named as a defendant in the case, it argued that it was a “required party,” since Maverick’s lawsuit would impact its gaming operations and violate its tribal sovereignty. Maverick, in turn, argued that the tribe would be adequately represented by the United States of America (which is named as a defendant) in court — a claim Estudillo rejected.
“While the federal government has an interest in upholding IGRA (the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act) and IGRA is intended to promote ‘tribal economic development, self-sufficiency, and strong tribal governments,’ … this does not mean that the federal government and the tribes’ interests are aligned sufficiently such that the federal government can adequately represent the tribes’ interests,” Estudillo wrote in his judgment.
Specific to the issue of sovereignty, he added, “Absent an express waiver by Congress or a clear and unequivocal waiver by the tribe, tribes retain sovereign immunity from suit.”
In response to Estudillo’s ruling, Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson released a statement that read, “This is a significant victory for tribal sovereignty. Washington law strikes the right balance by permitting sports betting and confining it to tribal casinos, where tribes have experience carefully regulating gambling where individuals must be physically present.”
Only state with total exclusivity
At the crux of Maverick’s suit is its belief that, as attorney Ted Olson said in early 2022, “Washington state is misusing IGRA to create tribal monopolies on certain types of gaming, such as sports betting. Contrary to IGRA’s own words, the law is being used to insulate tribes in Washington state from competition that exists in many other states with legal gaming marketplaces.”
Washington is thus far the only state in the country in which tribal interests have total exclusivity when it comes to sports betting and certain types of casino gaming.
“Maverick’s lawsuit was a direct attack on the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, which over the last three decades has been a pathway for tribes to regain their self-reliance by generating revenue to lift tribal communities out of poverty and despair,” said Rebecca George, executive director of the Washington Indian Gaming Association.
Last month, Maverick issued a policy brief in which Persson said, “I have the opportunity to pursue my dream of building a market-leading gaming company in my home state. I know that our perspective on sports betting is at odds with those who prefer a monopoly for Tribal casinos, but I respect their right to advocate for their members. Maverick Gaming will one day offer sports betting at its properties in our state, either following a ruling by the United States Supreme Court or an inclusive policy discussion by the state legislature that is founded in facts.”
For the past several years, Maverick has supported legislation seeking to legalize sports wagering at card rooms and horse racetracks in Washington state, and this year is no different. Bipartisan bills in both the House and Senate have been introduced, but have yet to advance out of committee, which has been par for the course in years past.