Washington Tribes Claim Maverick Gaming Lawsuit Threatens Sovereignty

May 27, 2022
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The executive director of the Washington Indian Gaming Association believes a federal lawsuit filed by Maverick Gaming is not just about commercial cardrooms being able to offer sports betting but is a direct assault on tribal sovereignty in Washington state and nationally.

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The executive director of the Washington Indian Gaming Association (WIGA) believes a federal lawsuit filed by Maverick Gaming is not just about commercial cardrooms being able to offer sports betting but is a direct assault on tribal sovereignty in Washington state and nationally.

Maverick, which owns 19 of the 44 licensed cardrooms in Washington state, originally filed its lawsuit in January in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C. before tribes successfully petitioned the federal court to have the lawsuit moved to Washington state’s Western District.

Ted Olson, the attorney whose arguments helped the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn the federal sports betting ban, known as the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA), is representing Maverick.

In the lawsuit, Olson claimed the unlawful use of 1988's Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) granted Washington tribal casinos a “discriminatory tribal gaming monopoly” over sports betting and other types of games, such as roulette and craps.

Cardrooms can only offer table games like blackjack or baccarat. In Washington, 29 tribal casinos operate under compacts negotiated with the state that allow for tribes to operate slot machines, table games and on-reservation retail sports betting.

Revenue from tribal casinos totaled about $3bn last year. Currently, 16 tribes have tribal-state compact amendments for sports betting approved, with three approvals pending, according to state gaming regulators.

“Maverick is directly challenging tribal gaming compacts, which have been carefully negotiated between sovereign tribes and the state, and as such seeks to wipe out the clear intent of the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act,” Rebecca George, WIGA’s executive director, told VIXIO GamblingCompliance late Wednesday (May 25).

George said the purpose of IGRA was to help tribes regain self-reliance by ensuring they can conduct carefully regulated gaming activities, producing a revenue stream that funds critically important services for tribal governments, their members and their communities.

“It was never intended to give private, non-tribal gambling companies the right to override state laws and offer unlimited gaming activities in neighborhood cardrooms spread across nearly every community in the state,” George said.

“If Maverick's radical reinterpretation of IGRA were to stand, it would mean that three decades of agreements between sovereign tribes and state and federal governments would be nullified, greatly undermining tribal sovereignty.”

Both Olson and Maverick co-founder and CEO Eric Persson disagree with George’s claim that they are attacking tribal sovereignty.

“We support and respect tribal equality and sovereignty,” Persson said in a statement.

But Persson said access to economic opportunity relies on a fair application of laws such as IGRA, and “I’m hopeful that our lawsuit will be resolved successfully so that tribal casinos and smaller cardrooms may offer the same types of legal gaming, such as sports betting.”

Olson, writing in the lawsuit, argues that contrary to “IGRA’s own words, the law is being used to insulate tribes in Washington state from competition that exists in many other states with legal gaming marketplaces.”

In addition, Olson argues that tribes' monopoly on sports wagering violates the U.S. Constitution Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection clause, which prohibits discrimination based on race. He goes on to argue that tribal membership is race-based.

Chris Stearns, a Seattle-based attorney focused on Indian law and former chairman of the Washington State Gambling Commission (WSGC), questioned the strategy of arguing that IGRA discriminates on the basis of race, since that argument was settled by the U.S. Supreme Court in Morton vs. Mancari in 1974.

Tribes are governmental and political entities, not racial groups, the Supreme Court ruled.

Stearns said states work with tribes as governments routinely, “so you’d like to think that’s settled as well.”

“I think the tribes will be on the winning side of this issue,” Stearns told VIXIO GamblingCompliance.

Stearns said he also believed it was unfair that Maverick’s 42-page lawsuit included the WSGC, since it is a regulatory body.

“It regulates … it is not there to benefit one segment over another,” the former chairman said. “It (takes) a hands-off approach. It’s there to keep gaming honest and safe.”

Stearns noted that the Washington State Horse Racing Commission and Washington State Lottery Commission were established to benefit both industries and the state, but the WSGC is there to “enforce the law.”

If successful, Olson could also open the door for DraftKings, FanDuel and other commercial gaming companies to do business in Washington state as commercial operators not partnering with tribal casinos as currently.

COVID Monitoring

Even as some tribes negotiate sports-betting amendments to their compacts, and Maverick’s lawsuit lingers over the industry, Washington tribal governments continue to monitor the evolving coronavirus pandemic two years on since the initial spread of the virus.

According to state health officials, 6,507 new cases were reported on Wednesday, bringing the total number to 21,792 in Washington state for the seven-day period of May 19-25.

George said tribal casinos in Washington state are open, safe and currently drawing increasing numbers of visitors.

“That said, tribes across our state were seriously impacted by the loss of gaming revenues when our casinos were shuttered,” George said. “A full recovery from the long COVID shutdowns is going to take time.”

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