With only about six hours remaining before a key legislative deadline, Washington State lawmakers on Tuesday night moved a tribal-only sports betting bill forward. The vote was 25-7, with one excused, in executive session of the House Appropriations Committee. The bill has now been assigned to the Rules Committee, but that should only be a brief pit stop before getting onto the House floor early next week.
Tuesday was the last day for a bill to come out of a House fiscal committee and still be alive in the House. The Senate passed a similar bill last week, but according to the Seattle Times, was going to hold back on further movement and let the House take the lead. The next deadline in both chambers is Feb. 19, the final date for a bill to be passed out of its chamber of origin.
Two amendments were put forth on Tuesday night, one dealing with “additional protections” for sports betting employers and another related to problem gambling initiatives, but neither passed. The bill that will move forward limits sports wagering to tribal casinos and does not include a component that would allow for state-wide mobile wagering platforms.
Commercial bill left behind
“This is a reasonable middle ground, it threads the needle nicely,” Representative Drew Stokesbary, the ranking Republican on the Appropriations Committee said during the hearing. “It builds upon a system we already have that is working extremely well.”
There was surprisingly little opposition considering that lawmakers also had a commercial bill backed by card-room owner Maverick Gaming to consider. But that bill, which would have allowed sports betting at tribal casinos, card rooms and horse racetracks, died in committee.
Washington State legislators appear to have been bought for $260k in choosing that sportsbetting is the property of just the tribes…with Mississippi-style mobile.
— Captain Jack Andrews (@capjack2000) February 12, 2020
“Washington is traditionally very conservative when it comes to gambling,” said Kevin Zenishek, executive director of casino operations for the Northern Quest Casino, which is owned and run by the Kalispel tribe. “It was originally for charities and non-profits to have some profit. … I think the legislators realize this is the safest, most realistic way to bring sports betting in without bringing in the commercial aspect.
“I don’t think the legislators or the people want to see a big expansion of gambling. I think people like gambling right where it is, and don’t want an expansion that includes bricks and mortar.”
Throughout the process, Washington lawmakers have appeared married to legalizing on tribal lands only, and the Indian lobby has been vocal in hearings throughout the process.
“I think this is the right approach, I’m not eager to see what other states have seen in expanding all over the place,” Democratic Representative Drew Hansen said during the session.
Washington would be first with tribal-only bill
Should Washington State move forward with is tribal-only bills, it would be the first state to have a sweeping tribal-only law. Arizona and Connecticut lawmakers have been kicking around the same idea. Michigan passed a more inclusive bill in late December that allows for sports betting at commercial and tribal locations and includes state-wide mobile. In every other state where sports betting is taking place at tribal casinos, including in Mississippi, New Mexico, New York and Oregon, no new legislation was passed before the tribes went live.
California’s tribes are seeking a similar situation, but are pursuing it through a ballot referendum. A group of tribes put forth a referendum that would allow sports betting at Indian casinos and horse racetracks and is currently gathering signatures to get the initiative on the November ballot. The California General Assembly is also discussing sports betting, and appears likely to go for its own referendum, which could open sports betting to card rooms across the state, as well as at tribal casinos and at horse racetracks. The existing bill would amend the state constitution to “authorize and provide for the regulation of sports betting,” but has no details.