Washington Tribal-Only Sports Betting Bill Heads to Governor’s Desk

A sports betting bill that passed the Washington state Senate and House has been sent to the desk of Governor Jay Inslee. If Gov. Inslee inks his signature on HB 2638, it will make Washington State the first state to legalize sports betting in 2020.

The bill limits sports betting to in-person wagering at land-based sportsbooks, and only at Tribal gaming facilities in the state. Approximately 35 Tribal casinos operate across 15 counties in the state of Washington. 

Irritated card room owners are evaluating their legal options to block the bill that permits sports wagering exclusively for Tribal casinos. The bill contains an “emergency clause” that shields the bill from any statewide referendum and serves to withstand legal challenge, the former state Attorney General has said. The clause also puts the law into effect immediately.

Sen. Doug Ericksen, R-Whatcom, warned lawmakers during the Senate floor debate that they’re creating a monopoly when the state could use additional tax revenue from expanding sports betting to card rooms — an amount that would total $50 million in annual state-tax revenue, according to card room owner projections. “This is a heck of a partnership,” Ericksen said, reported The Seattle Times. “I mean, they [Tribes] get everything and the taxpayers get nothing on this partnership.”

But Tribal leaders underscore the Tribes’ longstanding relationships with the state and proven commitment to responsible gaming.

Ron Allen, CEO of Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe, said: “The 29 Tribes in Washington State have a deep historical experience overseeing responsible gaming for three decades. We have a trusted, successful partnership with the state where we have effectively managed gaming in a controlled environment and avoided widespread expansion.”

Rebecca Kaldor, executive director of the Washington Indian Gaming Association, drew attention to the billions that Tribes generate for the state economy and why Tribes need sports betting revenue to self-govern. “Tribal gaming is government gaming,” she said. “It is much different from commercial gaming. Indian gaming funds essential services desperately needed in our communities — education, natural resources, human services, housing and infrastructure, just to name a few.”

According to WIGA’s most recent, 2019-released economic impact report by Jonathan B. Taylor for 2017:

  • In 2017, Washington Tribes directly employed more than 30,715 Washingtonians, ranking above Safeway & Albertsons (8th) and Walmart (9th). In 2017, Tribal governments paid more than $1.5 billion in employee compensation, inclusive of benefits and employer-paid payroll taxes. At least 55,661 total jobs in Washington are traceable to the economic activity of Tribal governments through direct, indirect and induced impacts.
  • In 2017, Tribal governments invested more than $374 million in construction of hotels, community centers, travel plazas, roads, clinics and more. Tribal governments are also investing in health care, education, housing and the natural environment. Average Indian income on Washington’s reservations grew by 30 percent from 1990 to 2017. This growth — and all that springs from it — arises from Tribes’ status as sovereigns under U.S. federalism, the report states. Four out of five dollars of Tribal government revenue derived from Tribal sovereignty — either resource sales, taxes or Tribally owned business income.
  • Non-Indians constituted 70% of Washington Tribes’ workforces, and Tribes purchased more than $3 billion in goods and services, virtually all of it (94%+) from the off-reservation economy. The combined direct, indirect and induced effects of recurring Tribal economic activity yielded more than $5.3 billion in gross state product, which produced an estimated $722 million in state and local government revenue. In addition to the recurring payroll and purchasing, the Tribes spent $456 million of non-recurring capital expenditures in 2017, to bring the total impact to $5.7 billion in gross state product. Non-Indian communities also benefit from spillovers produced by the Tribes’ investments in social, environmental, and human capital in the state.