Washington Takes Another Step Towards Expanding Legal Gambling

Despite the fact that any U.S. state can authorize any form of gambling, Washington, D.C. has long been recognized for its strict gaming regulations. Many states have already legalized at least certain sorts of gambling activities because gambling prohibition often leads to an increase in underground gaming. It's now up to Washington to evaluate its gambling laws. The D.C. Lottery introduced the "GameBetDC" platform in summer 2020, allowing residents to wager on major sporting events across the world.

Before the end of this year's brief legislative session on March 13, a House appropriations committee voted 25-7 to forward sports gambling measure HB 2638 to a probable full floor vote. The sports-betting initiative may be sent to Gov. Jay Inslee by spring if it passes the House and is followed by a comparable Senate vote on companion bill SB 6394.

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Rep. Strom Peterson, D-Edmonds, who sponsored HB 2638, said in an interview moments after the early evening vote, “I'm trying to have this moving over to the Senate on a relatively rapid timeline. We'll see if that happens, but I believe the fact that we just had a pretty bi-partisan vote this evening helps.”

Gambling taxes provide a wonderful opportunity to fill budget gaps created by the COVID-19 pandemic. Given this, Republican Senator Curtis King and his Democratic counterpart Marko Lilas filed Senate Bill 5212, which would allow in-person and online betting at cardrooms and racetracks.

All patrons aged 18 and over will be able to attend brick-and-mortar and online cardrooms and racetracks if the measure passes all of the requisite processes to become a part of the state's gambling law. Operators must apply for and pay a US$100,000 license fee in order to deliver these gambling activities to their customers. A ten percent tax on gross gaming earnings will also be applied. Each gambling establishment with the license will work with a third-party casino software provider who must also have a Casino Service Industry Enterprise license. It's also worth noting that, according to the bill, betting on college sports events taking place in Washington will be outlawed.

As expected, there is no consensus on whether or not cardrooms should be legalized. Tribes in Washington are opposed to the forthcoming gambling expansion, claiming that the planned bill would allow mobile gaming statewide rather than just at tribal facilities. Only a few types of card games are now permitted in non-tribal gambling establishments. Blackjack, Baccarat, and a few poker games are among them.

According to the Executive Director of the Washington Indian Gaming Commission, Rebecca George

“If passed, this bill would affect the tribes and the state's economy in the long run. It would also jeopardize the state's and tribes' meticulous development of a safe and intentional framework over the previous 30 years.”

George also mentioned that tribal casinos are an important source of revenue for the tribes. In any case, the bill has a large number of backers. For example, Eric Persson, the founder of Maverick Gaming, claimed that the legislation would allow his company to provide an additional USD50 million in gaming taxes to state and local governments each year. The bill would also allow him to open 200 new job offerings in his 19 facilities across Washington. “It generates a large number of family-wage jobs, which are urgently required during this pandemic. It generates a significant amount of tax revenue, which is needed both at the state and, more critically, at the municipal level,” Eric Persson noted. On the other hand, Persson expressed respect for the tribes and their rights, promising not to do anything until the tribal compacts are finalized.

Brenda Wiest, who's the vice president of the Teamsters local, appeared before the House appropriations committee for a public hearing on sports-gaming legislation. Maverick is now the state's largest employer of Teamster union members, she told the committee, and the new legislation hasn't taken "time to consider what impact this proposed gambling expansion could have on local card rooms that we currently represent,"

However, state lawmakers have been sympathetic to restricting any early sports betting to tribal casinos. Part of this is because those venues have long been the only places in the state where legal gambling is permitted.

Part of the issue is that sports gambling, particularly on mobile devices, where an estimated 80% of it occurs countrywide, has the potential to hook kids if it becomes too popular. Some of Maverick's tax-revenue claims have been disputed by tribal leaders and lobbyists. They've also told the committee that their towns contribute more than $5 billion to the state's economy each year, employ more than 30,000 people, and create more than $728 million in state and local tax revenue each year.

According to David Bean, chairman of the Puyallup tribe, who testified at a public meeting.

For more than three decades, Native communities have been "trusted partners" of the state government in managing their casinos "in a safe, controlled, and equitable manner,"

The government can best ensure that sports gambling remains safe, honest, and trustworthy by keeping it within tribal facilities, he continued.

“The bill serves the whole state of Washington because tribal gaming benefits both tribal and non-tribal communities,” he said. “You're familiar with us. This is our shared homeland. This is where we call home. This is where we work. Here in Washington, we invest our resources. And we ask that you take a sports betting approach that maximizes the benefits to people and communities in Washington.”

The trend of allowing sports wagering has exploded after the United States Supreme Court struck down a 1992 federal regulation that prohibited betting on sporting events in almost all states. Currently, 25 states and the District of Columbia have legalized sports betting, with more states, including Washington, on the verge of doing so.

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