On Wednesday, lawmakers in Washington state filed a bill that would expand the availability of legal sports betting to card rooms, marking the third time in three years that the state’s card rooms, led by Maverick Gaming, have tried to legislatively break the existing monopoly that allows for wagering at tribal casinos only.
Washington is so far the only state in the U.S. that has given total exclusivity to its tribes, though it’s possible that California, the biggest tribal gaming state in the country, will eventually find itself in a similar situation. California’s tribes late last year successfully killed a commercial digital sports betting initiative by one of the widest margins in American history.
In Arizona and Connecticut, tribes have agreed to deals through which they gave up at least some of their exclusivity, and in Michigan, tribes in 2019 agreed to be regulated by the state and pay taxes instead of maintaining exclusivity. In Wisconsin, tribes began quietly re-compacting with the state in 2021 to add sports betting, and in New Mexico and Oregon, tribes launched sports betting with no state oversight or new compact. As wagering has been legalized across more than 30 states, each has its own, unique system, and of the 22 states with legal wagering and tribes, no two situations are the same.
Maverick Gaming owns 19 card rooms in Washington and has aggressively tried to get lawmakers to consider a more “inclusive” gaming law dating to 2020, when the legislature awarded tribes exclusivity over certain forms of gambling. In addition to exploring the legislative route, Maverick Gaming in January 2022 filed a federal lawsuit challenging the monopoly.
West Coast card rooms want seat at table
The legislation and lawsuit are just the latest efforts by card rooms in the West to not only preserve their businesses, but to expand.
In California in 2022, card rooms lobbied against Proposition 26, which would have given tribes a monopoly on in-person sports betting. Card-room representatives said they were not necessarily asking for sports betting at their establishments, but were instead railing against a provision in the proposition that would have allowed private citizens to sue them directly. In both Washington and California, tribes currently have exclusivity with regard to casino gaming and believe that the card rooms are encroaching on their domain.
All the Indian tribes care about is putting California Card Rooms out of business. If sports betting is a way to do that, they'll go that route.
— Slam (@slam254) November 9, 2022
California card rooms may see a boost in power in coming years, as a moratorium that limited expansion was lifted last year (effective Jan. 1, 2023) when the state legislature failed to renew a 1995 ban on new card rooms. That could mean that the next time sports betting comes up in the political arena, whether legislatively or by initiative, California’s card rooms could have more money, voices, and traction to demand inclusion.
In Washington, the state’s tribes view the new legislation as an assault on their sovereignty.
“Washington State tribes continue to strongly oppose Maverick’s gambling expansion legislation,” Rebecca George of the Washington Indian Gaming Association said via press release. “It would severely undermine Washington State’s safe and successful system of gaming and would put Washingtonians at risk, and we call on legislative leaders to once again reject it.”
Maverick: Expanded betting would be a boon
Maverick Gaming argues that while legislators have voted against non-tribal gaming, it would, in fact, be good for the state in terms of tax revenue, integrity, and access. Though the tribes contribute funds and services to local communities, they do not pay taxes to the state and are regulated in large part by tribal councils.
Maverick does have some support in the state legislature, as HB 1630 was filed by Reps. Amy Walen and Larry Springer in the House, while mirror legislation, SB 5587, was filed by Sens. Curtis King and Marko Liias. The bills are essentially the same as those filed during the 2022 session, though with revamped responsible gaming sections.
Under the new bills, wagering would be legal at existing card rooms and horse racetracks, be taxed at 10% of gross gaming revenue, and be prohibited on college sports, esports, high school sports, and competitive video games. The license fee would be $100,000.
The fight for who controls sports betting in Washington state | Digital Originals https://t.co/72judivcrU
— Politic Talks (@politic_talks) January 26, 2023
In 2021, sports betting bills filed by the same lawmakers did not get out of committee, and in 2022, sports wagering didn’t even get a hearing, though bills were filed ahead of the session.
Despite the headwinds, Maverick Gaming isn’t backing down.
“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,” Eric Persson, founder of Maverick Gaming, said in a press release. “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.”