Ready For Action: Washington Gambling Commission Signals Intent To Draft Sports Betting Regulations

Posted on July 21, 2020

Sometime in the near future, Oregonians visiting tribal casinos in Washington state will have a new way to play. The process of rolling out Washington sports betting is one step closer to being finished.

Last week, the Washington State Gambling Commission unanimously voted to begin the process of creating regulations for the activity. Other stakeholders still have work to do, however.

Latest on the state of Washington sports betting

With the commission’s 3-0 vote, the onus for how quickly WA residents and visitors can start placing legal bets now lies elsewhere. Namely, with the tribal casinos and other federal and state officials.

Each tribal casino operator in the state must negotiate its own compact that includes wagering on sporting events. The Washington Legislature, Gov. Jay Inslee (or his successor if he is not re-elected) and the US Department of the Interior must all sign off on those compacts.

Although negotiations are underway, there is no timeline for that process.

Four WA tribes have already expressed interest in offering sports betting at their casinos by applying for licenses with the state’s gambling board. Those are:

  • Kalispel Tribe of Indians
  • Snoqualmie Tribe
  • Suquamish Tribe
  • Tulalip Tribes of Washington

The board will likely not issue any licenses until after the commission finalizes regulations. By the same token, the commission probably won’t finalize rules until the involved parties finish the compacts.

That all means it’s anyone’s guess as to when WA casinos will start taking bets. What we do know, however, is that they will have the only legal wagering product in the state when they do.

WA law only permits tribal casinos to offer sports betting within its borders. They can host online wagering, but it must be within the premises of the casinos. Mississippi is set up the same way.

Lawmakers will have to decide whether to allow casinos to contract with sportsbook operators to handle the sports betting management. That isn’t the only decision facing WA legislators right now, however.

The matter of a $6 million loan

Last year, the legislature loaned the commission a sum of $6 million to cover administrative costs associated with the gambling expansion. Now the commission is asking for forgiveness.

The commission argues that the COVID-19 pandemic has put some unexpected strain on its budget. For that reason, the commission would like the legislature to forgive the loan.

As an alternative to complete absolvement of the debt, the commission also suggests extending the term of the loan. Currently, the deadline for repayment with interest is June 30, 2021.

The commission asked for an extension of two or three years. The legislature will decide whether to grant either request soon. If it refuses both pleas, it’s uncertain where the commission will cut back to make the loan payment.

Regardless of the loan status, the commission is ready when the time comes. It’s just not sure when that will be right now.

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Derek Helling

Derek Helling is a freelance journalist who resides in Kansas City, Mo. He is a 2013 graduate of the University of Iowa and covers the intersections of sports with business and the law.

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