Eric Persson, chief executive of Maverick Gaming, has unsuccessfully lobbied lawmakers for more than two years to allow cardrooms in Washington state to offer legal and regulated sports betting, but that has not stopped him from getting behind another legalization effort this year.
Legislation was introduced Wednesday (January 25) by a bipartisan group of lawmakers that would expand upon the legislation that enacted retail and mobile sports betting for tribal casinos in 2020.
House Bill 1630, and companion measure Senate Bill 5587, would only let existing licensed cardrooms and racetracks apply for a sports-betting license. HB 1630 has been assigned to the Regulated Substances and Gaming Committee, while SB 5587 will be considered by the Business, Financial Services and Gaming Committee.
Washington gaming regulators would charge a $100,000 licensing fee to cover a regulatory system focused on public safety and integrity. The state would impose a 10 percent tax on all gross revenues from wagering on sports, in addition to the taxes already levied at the local level.
Mobile wagering would be limited to one website and one app per licensed cardroom and racetrack, and any website or app can only accept bets inside a cardroom or on the racetrack’s property.
Both bills would ban betting on college sports events that take place in Washington state or that involve a state college or university playing inside or outside the state. Wagering on high-school sports and competitive video games (esports) would also be banned.
A person placing a wager must be at least 18 years of age.
The latest effort to legalize sports betting in Washington state comes at the same time as Maverick’s federal lawsuit claiming state officials unlawfully allowed Native American casinos to create monopolies on certain types of gaming, including sports betting, roulette and craps.
Legislation authorizing wagering on sports at tribal casinos within the state was enacted in March 2020. Retail sports betting launched on September 9, 2021, while mobile wagering is allowed within the tribal casinos and adjourning amenities, such as hotels or restaurants.
The case is pending in the Western District Court in Tacoma. Maverick operates 22 of 38 licensed cardrooms in Washington, along with seven casinos in Colorado and Nevada.
“Maverick Gaming supports bipartisan legislation … to allow only currently licensed commercial card rooms to offer sports betting on premise to adults,” the company said in a statement. “Commercial cardrooms would offer sports betting with an identical regulatory framework as currently upheld by tribal casinos.”
In its statement, Maverick stressed that the company respects and celebrates the sovereignty of tribal nations but including commercial gaming in a regulated marketplace would have no impact on tribal sovereignty.
“Today, adults may play cards at a neighborhood cardroom or at a destination tribal casino with no implications for the sovereign rights of tribes.”
Persson believes that restricting sports betting to tribal casinos allows the illicit and unsafe online marketplace to flourish, as adults who do not live near a casino may choose instead to wager illegally online.
“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,” Persson said.
“Maverick Gaming will one day offer sports betting at its properties in our state, either following a ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court or an inclusive policy discussion by the state legislature that is founded in facts.”
Rebecca George, executive director of the Washington Indian Gaming Association (WIGA), was unavailable for comment Thursday. But the WIGA has warned its members that Maverick has vowed to spend $30m on lawsuits, supporting legislation and a ballot initiative.
“This commercial gambling company wants widespread sports betting in Washington — in neighborhood cardrooms and on our mobile devices. Neither the public nor the legislature supports this massive expansion.”
Under the tribal footprint, gaming will not expand; it will stay within areas where gambling is currently allowed by law, according to the WIGA’s position statement.
According to the bills, before sports betting may be conducted by a cardroom or racetrack, the Washington State Gambling Commission must analyse the impacts of legalized wagering on problem gambling and evaluate ways to mitigate impacts to problem gambling.
The five-member commission also must adopt rules to mitigate impacts to problem gambling from sports betting.