Eric Persson, owner of Maverick Gaming, believes his business is at an economic disadvantage because tribal casinos in Washington state can offer sports betting, roulette, craps and electronic table games, while blackjack and baccarat are the only games allowed inside cardrooms.
“Maverick competes with other casinos, including tribal casinos in Washington, to offer the best and most attractive selection of games allowed by law,” Persson wrote in a three-page declaration submitted last week to the federal court in Tacoma, Washington.
“Because Indian tribes in Washington can offer casino-style gaming … but Maverick cannot legally do so, Maverick incurs increased expenses and lost revenue.”
Due to the tribes’ ability to offer a broader selection of games, Persson claimed his company “incurs increased advertising expenses, increased promotional expenses, and increased entertainment expenses.”
“Maverick also loses revenue from customers who would frequent Maverick’s cardrooms if they offered casino-style gaming activities, but who instead frequent tribal casinos,” he added.
Maverick operates 18 of the 39 cardrooms in Washington, along with seven casinos in Colorado and Nevada.
Persson told the Washington State Gambling Commission (WSGC) last week that at one time there were more than 100 cardrooms in the state, a number that declined from 44 prior to the coronavirus pandemic to 39 today.
“Maverick has commissioned third parties to conduct studies assessing its commercial casino revenue opportunities in Washington, and these studies concluded that Maverick could earn significant revenue in the Washington market were it not for Washington’s prohibition of most forms of casino-style gaming.
“Tribal casinos’ gaming activities in Washington alter competitive conditions in a way that is unfavorable to Maverick,” Persson added.
According to Persson, Maverick would be able to increase the revenue from its cardrooms if it could offer casino-style games, or if tribal gaming facilities could not offer casino-style games, “because either outcome would allow Maverick to compete more effectively with tribal gaming facilities.”
Persson filed his legal declaration on Friday (August 12), the latest filing in the company’s lawsuit that claims the state’s application of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) is being used “inappropriately to give tribes exclusive rights to certain types of gaming.”
Passed by Congress in 1988, the federal law governs how tribal gaming operates in the U.S.
Maverick’s lawsuit was originally filed in January in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C. before tribes successfully petitioned to have the lawsuit moved to the Western District Court in Tacoma.
In an amended complaint filed in July, Ted Olson, a partner with law firm Gibson Dunn who represents Maverick, wrote that giving tribes the exclusive right to offer most forms of Class III gaming under IGRA while prohibiting cardrooms created a “discriminatory tribal gaming monopoly."
An attorney of unique status in the gaming industry after representing the state of New Jersey in its successful effort to overturn the federal ban on sports betting, Olson also claimed the “tribal monopoly also violates the [U.S.] constitution’s guarantee of equal protection of the laws by irrationally and impermissibly discriminating on the basis of race and ancestry.”
According to its complaint, Maverick is asking federal judge David Estudillo to rule Washington's tribal gaming compacts and compact amendments violate federal law and therefore are void, setting aside U.S. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland’s approvals of the compacts and amendments.
The lawsuit also asks the court to declare that Washington’s gaming laws violate the U.S. constitution’s guarantee of equal protection.
A Maverick spokesman declined to comment on the lawsuit.
On Monday, Maverick also asked the court to deny the request of the Shoalwater Bay Indian Tribe to dismiss the company’s case, saying the tribe is adequately defended by federal and state attorneys.
The Shoalwater Bay tribe is seeking to intervene in the case because they believe Persson is trying to “destroy” a major source of employment and discretionary revenue for his own tribe.
Persson is a member of the Shoalwater Bay tribe.
In its filing, Shoalwater Bay attorney Scott Crowell wrote that Maverick was seeking to halt gaming by the tribe on its lands, “to deprive the tribe of its rights under federal law, and to invalidate its gaming compact, together with its amendments, with the state of Washington, all without naming the tribe as a defendant.”
Instead, Crowell noted that Maverick is suing the federal government and various state officials.
Western District of Washington Judge Estudillo has scheduled a hearing on Shoalwater’s request for Friday (August 19).
The Shoalwater Bay tribe is one of 18 Washington Indian tribes to have an amended its compact to accommodate sports betting.
Maverick’s legal efforts to eliminate tribal-state gaming compacts is being fiercely opposed by other Washington tribes.
Rebecca George, executive director of the Washington Indian Gaming Association, said Washington’s tribes stand united behind the Shoalwater Bay tribe.
“Maverick’s lawsuit makes a mockery of the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA), which has been the foundation for growing tribal self-reliance over the last three decades,” George said.
“The intent of IGRA was to help tribes to regain their self-reliance by ensuring they have the ability to conduct carefully regulated gaming activities, producing a revenue stream they can use to fund critically important services for their members and their communities.”
George said IGRA was never intended to give private, non-tribal gambling companies the right to “override state laws and offer every gaming activity that tribes offer in neighborhood cardrooms spread across nearly every community in the state.”