Washington state has now passed a bill allowing legal sports betting, but many proponents are disappointed due to the state’s insistence that only tribal casinos can offer sports bets. These sports bets at tribal casinos can only made by customers in person—the sole exception in the bill is for a rudimentary form of mobile betting that must be made within a tribal casino. Online gambling is now considered a Class C felony.
Gov. Jay Inslee signed HB 2638 on March 25 which had already been approved by the state senate in early March. HB 2638 allows sports wagering to be offered at casinos owned and operated by Washington’s 29 federally recognized tribes. All that is left to do is for Washington to renegotiate the respective gaming compacts they have with each tribe.
No sports bets are likely to be taken in the near-future in Washington state, as none of the tribal casinos are currently open, due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, though the online casino market continues to thrive. Furthermore, most major sporting events have now been cancelled or delayed, which limits the bets the tribes can offer if they were open today.
The bill was passed in no small part due to an emergency clause that struck down the requirement for a statewide referendum on the issue of legal sports betting—under this referendum, 60% of Washington state residents must vote for it before such a bill can move forward.
However, the clause stated that the bill needed to be expedited as it was deemed necessary for the well-being of the state government and its public entities. Because of the clause, the statewide referendum requirement was waived.
HB 2638 Could Face Challenges Down the Line
Commercial gambling firms such as Maverick Gaming, a card room operator that owns a number of card rooms within the state, expressed their disappointment at HB 2638. According to them, Washington consumers would be better served by a more open sports betting industry that allowed for mobile betting. Maverick has also hinted that, if the bill is passed without a referendum, it will likely be challenged in court.
Washington is the only state so far this year to have passed a legal sports betting bill, unlike last year, when many states raced to bring their own gambling bills to approval. Currently, it is expected that the push to legalize sports betting in 2020 will slow down as state legislators deal with more pressing issues brought by the COVID-19 pandemic.