Washington Sports Betting May Get A Makeover Before It Even Launches

Posted on January 21, 2021

When the state of Washington authorized sports betting last year, it only did so at tribal casinos.

Less than a year later, more legislative activity could produce a much grander debut for Washington sports betting.

Two state senators have filed a bill that aims to broaden the scope of who can legally offer wagering on sporting events in the state. Perhaps more important, the bill is picking up important endorsements.

The latest on Washington sports betting

It appears Oregon is not the only state looking to tap into its sports betting potential. Like how Gov. Kate Brown introduced legislation to expand access to sports betting licenses in Oregon, Washington Sens. Curtis King and Marko Liias have done the same with SB5212.

In March 2020, Washington joined the fray of jurisdictions with some form of legal sports wagering. Under current law, however, only tribal casinos can operate sportsbooks legally.

The biggest change under the proposed bill would repeal that provision. Then, cardroom and racetrack operators could not only apply for licenses but also contract with vendors to run their sportsbooks for them.

That means, in theory, online sportsbooks popular in other states — such as BetMGM, DraftKings and FanDuel — could be available to Washingtonians at some point. There are other details that Washington bettors should know about this bill, however.

What’s in SB5212?

The bill includes several tenets widely considered friendly to bettors and the industry. Those include:

  • A competitive 10% tax rate on aggregate revenue
  • A license fee of $100,000
  • No mandate for sportsbooks to purchase official data from leagues
  • Requirements for sportsbooks to comply with responsible gambling protocols

There is one section that bettors and operators may not be as excited about. That regards impermissible events. In its current form, the bill bans all wagering on both collegiate sporting events that take place in the state and any games that involve Washington college teams.

That means sportsbooks in the state couldn’t take any bets on the Washington State Cougars or Washington Huskies. If the Pac-12 men’s basketball tournament ever takes place in Washington, the entire tourney would be off the books.

The bill lists esports events as impermissible as well. Like with all other parts of the bill, amendments to change this language are still a possibility. However, support for the current iteration is only growing.

Broad support for SB5212 already in place

King and Liias — a Republican and Democrat, respectively — represent a bipartisan effort to make this change. That could only grow as more Washington lawmakers embrace gambling expansion as a way to shore up budget deficits.

Seattle Times estimate showed that the state coffers could be up to $7 billion lighter through 2023 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. While tax revenue from expanded sports betting would not replace that income, it will help.

Outside of Olympia, Maverick Gaming, which operates 19 cardrooms in Washington, has also lent its support to SB5212. In a release, CEO Eric Persson said:

“As the 2021 Legislature begins to grapple with the ongoing devastation caused by the pandemic, Maverick Gaming supports SB 5212 because it lays out a modest approach that will generate economic opportunity for our workforce, create approximately 10 new jobs at each of our 19 locations, and help spark pandemic relief efforts by contributing tens of millions of new tax dollars to local and state programs. We are humbled that the legislation already has bipartisan support and we look forward to advocating for this proposal.”

With all indicators looking good right now, there is a possibility the Washington legislature could move on this quickly. Tribal casinos in the state will probably launch their sportsbooks sometime this year. Cardrooms and racetracks could potentially join them.

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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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