If you take Nevada out of the mix, the West has been slower than the East, Midwest or South to embrace legal sports betting since the Supreme Court struck down the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act in May 2018. In fact, of the seven Western states, only Nevada and Oregon currently have legal sports betting — and Oregon didn’t need to pass a law to do it. But in the last week or two, there’s been plenty of action on sports betting around the West. With the exception of Alaska and Idaho, where it’s been a non-issue, there’s been movement all across.
In particular, Washington State lawmakers appear committed to moving a pair of tribal-only sports betting bills forward. The House Appropriations Committee on Saturday heard testimony for and against a tribal-only bill. The committee must send the bill, HB 2638 to the House floor by the end of Tuesday in order for it to remain in play this session.
The bill was among 44 that had public hearings in the Appropriations Committee Saturday morning, and tribal interests spoke in uniformly favor of the bill, arguing that it would help keep sports betting revenue in Washington State, that it’s not a widespread expansion of gaming, and that it would help curb the possibility of problem gaming because the bill does not allow for state-wide mobile betting.
Tribes: Keep revenue in Washington State
“Passing this bill will keep sports betting revenue in Washington State, and that is vastly different than other bills you’ve heard,” testified Kevin Zenishek, executive director of casino operations for the Northern Quest Casino, which is owned and run by the Kalispel tribe. “It will help the tribes to continue to to offer vital services and jobs.”
Said Ryan Ramirez, the CEO of Port Madison Enterprises: “Some out there hope to delay this bill, but they are from out of state. This bill will not generate $50 million in revenue across the state … the fiscal analysis says $3 million.”
Both were referring to commercial gaming bills that are stalled in both chambers, but backed by Maverick Gaming, which owns 19 card rooms in the state, and is pushing for a more inclusive law. Maverick owner Eric Persson brought his young son to the hearing to announce a new deal the company struck with the local Teamsters Union, and on his own tried to poke fun at the idea that he is from out of state — Persson is from Washington, but also has a home in Nevada — and offered up that his card rooms are smoke-free places to gamble.
“It’s fun to hear that I am an out-of-state bogeyman,” Persson said.
Last week, the Shoalwater Bay Tribe, of which Persson is a member, distanced itself from him, saying that it backs the tribal-only bills. On Saturday, another Maverick employee, Vicki Christophersen also testified about the advantage of online sports betting and the speed with which the tribal bills are working their way through the legislature.
“This bill does nothing to eliminate the illicit market,” Christophersen said of HB 2638. “This bill is seeking to move really quickly without enough thought. This is an attempt to rush through an issue without a level playing field.”
Senate committee sends bill to floor
Neither of the bills Maverick is backing have moved out of their respective committees.
The hearing echoed testimony heard on the Senate earlier last week and the previous week. But on Thursday, the Senate Labor and Commerce Committee voted the Senate version of the bill, SB 6394 out of committee and onto the Senate floor. According to the Seattle Times, Senate leaders will allow the House to take the lead on this issue, and won’t take it up on the floor until the House approves its bill. But first, the Appropriations Committee must vote HB 2638 out of committee before Tuesday’s legislative deadline. As for late Sunday, the bill was not the agenda for either Monday or Tuesday’s Appropriations Committee meetings.
“I feel like there is a strong pathway for us to get it to the governor this year,’’ Senator Rebecca Saldaña, the lead bill sponsor, told the Seattle Times after the vote. “That’s what I’m working on.’
“Our intent was to have true companion bills all the way through. I think that ours is a mirror of theirs. And if it is a mirror, and we don’t do any more mucking around of their version, then it can go straight to the governor.’’
Washington’s legislative session ends on March 13.
Elsewhere around the West
Elsewhere around the West, legal sports betting is also being bandied about. Here’s a look:
Arizona: Earlier this week, Senator Sonny Borelli filed SB 1525, a tribal sports betting bill that largely resembles the bill he filed last year. It calls for tribal sports betting with a twist — allowing tribes to contract with local bars and private clubs to offer sports betting via kiosk, in addition legalizing on-reservation sports betting. The bill doesn’t really fit with the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act in that it would allow tribal sports betting on non-tribal lands, which is outside the bounds of IGRA, so that’s a hurdle Borelli and the tribes would have to overcome. SB 1525 would establish a revenue agreement (as opposed to tax, as tribes are sovereign nations), sending certain funds from the Tribes to the state, and includes a college carveout. Put that together with the IGRA issue, and it’s unlikely that stakeholders will embrace the bill. According to a source, there is a broader, more inclusive bill that would also allow for commercial sports betting, both retail and mobile, in the pipeline.
California: There’s not much new in the Golden State, but tribal interests should be out pounding the pavement to get the approximately 1 million signatures they’ll need to get their sports betting initiative on the November ballot. To recap, the initiative would legalize retail sports betting only at tribal locations and horse racetracks. It does not allow for state-wide mobile sports betting. Both the state’s card rooms and professional sports venues were left out of the initiative. On the legislative side, ACA 16, which would also require voter approval, but is more inclusive, is still hanging around, but since a sports betting hearing was held in Sacramento in early January, no more action has been taken.
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Hawaii: There’s no action on sports betting per se in Hawaii, but last week, two bills — one each in the Senate and House — were filed that would create the Hawaii Lottery and Gaming Corporation to oversee gaming. Hawaii currently has no legal gaming, not even a lottery. Of note is that the bills, SB 2669 and HB 2667, specifically prohibit sports betting:
(b) The Hawaii lottery and gaming corporation may:
(1) Offer wagering on games of chance and games of skill, including lottery, poker, and casino games, to individuals over the age of eighteen years; provided that the corporation shall not offer wagering on any sporting event or sporting contest.