The Washington House of Representatives on Saturday gave concurrence to a measure legalizing sports betting, but with limitations: It’s only for in-person wagering at physical sportsbooks, and only at tribal gaming facilities in the state. HB 2638 now just needs a signature from Governor Jay Inslee to make Washington State the first to legalize in 2020.
Elsewhere over the weekend, both chambers of Virginia’s legislature on Sunday passed a bill legalizing full-fledged online sports betting and also opened the door to construction of the first casinos in the state. That bill will head to the desk of Governor Ralph Northam.
The enabling legislation in Washington, which originated in the House, was approved by the Senate late Thursday night but was sent back to the House for sign-off on two minor amendments. Representatives quickly and overwhelmingly did so, voting 83-14 in favor of the bill. The tally mirrored the vote on Feb. 13 when the House sent a prior version of the bill to the Senate.
With Inslee’s approval, Washington would become the first state to pass a sweeping tribal-only sports betting bill. There are approximately 35 tribal casinos operating in the state across 15 counties. The bill was heavily opposed by commercial stakeholders, in particular card-room owner Maverick Gaming, but throughout the process, lawmakers seemed focused on a narrow introduction of legal sports betting — only in person, only at the state’s tribal casinos.
Governor Inslee expected to sign
“Looking at this process, it just goes to show that building relationships with the legislative body early on is important,” said consultant Brendan Bussmann of Global Market Advisors. “The tribal organizations have had a long-standing commitment and relationship with the state of Washington, and it can be seen by what has been developed in HB 2638 that outsiders have not built the same level of trust.”
Maverick alone owns 19 card rooms, and there is no limit to the number of card rooms that could open. Maverick owner Eric Persson told the Seattle Times that he will challenge the bill should it become law. The focus of the lawsuit is expected to be on the emergency clause that was added in the House, which means the law goes into effect immediately. The clause would allow for an immediate $6 million infusion of cash to the Washington State Gambling Commission, but it would also prevent voters from weighing in on the expansion of gambling.
Tribal sources say Inslee supports the bill and will sign it.
Washington would become the second Western state outside of Nevada to offer sports betting. The Oregon Lottery and one tribal casino in Oregon launched sports betting there in 2019.
California is grappling with how to legalize sports betting. A bill has been sitting in the California General Assembly since last year, and a coalition of tribes is currently gathering signatures to get a referendum allowing tribal-only sports betting on the November ballot.