With 15 Tribal Agreements, Washington Sports Betting Could Launch In Time For NFL

Posted on May 27, 2021

The prospect of sports betting in Washington has in recent weeks made unprecedented progress.

Good news, right?

For the most part, yes.

Major sticking points remain, however. Details must be ironed out for an industry many hope will launch in Washington before the NFL regular season.

Agreements aplenty with tribes to host sports betting

At the center of everything are tentative agreements between the Washington State Gambling Commission and Native American tribes. Upon its launch, the two will host sports betting in the state.

So far, Washington has come to tentative agreements to amend Class III gaming compacts with 15 tribes.

The first and most prominent of those agreements was reached between the commission and Tulalip Tribes of Washington, a deal that amends the tribe’s gaming contract to permit retail sports betting at its casinos near Seattle.

Announced last month, it came a year after Gov. Jay Inslee signed legislation allowing sports betting at tribal casinos following the establishment of needed framework.

“We believe that this compact amendment is a thoughtful approach by the Tribe and State that ensures sports wagering will be conducted with the highest integrity while protecting the public by keeping gambling legal and honest,” said Washington State Gambling Commission Chair Bud Sizemore.

“The State and Tribal negotiation team did a great job coming to this agreement. There is still a lot of work before the first regulated sportsbook opens in our state, and I’m hopeful sports wagering can launch before the NFL regular season begins.”

Since the agreement with Tulalip, agreements aplenty have emerged, including with prominent tribes like the Kalispel and Snoqualmie.

Once enacted, casinos are expected to partner with popular operators like DraftKings and FanDuel to run casino sportsbooks.

“We look forward to providing this exciting new gaming offering to our loyal casino patrons, which will allow us to expand our tribal programs and community partnerships,” said Snoqualmie Tribal Chairman Robert de los Angeles in a statement.

After legislative hearings, the most important date for sports betting proponents is June 10. This is when the Gambling Commission will hold a public hearing to vote on compact amendments.

If approved, amendments will be sent to tribal chairs and Inslee. Then, followed by the US Department of Interior and published in the Federal Register.

Differences will be notable between Oregon, Washington

One notable difference between Washington and Oregon is the prohibition in Washington of online or mobile sports betting off tribal grounds.

This means Washington will, for the time being, fail to recreate a mobile marketplace like Oregon’s Scoreboard, itself full of shortcomings. Most notable is Scoreboard’s prohibition on college sports betting, which doesn’t extend to Oregon’s tribal casinos.

Washington will allow betting on college sports, albeit not on games involving in-state schools. This serves as another revenue-stifling example soon to be on display in the northwest.

Washington, meanwhile, has also punted on the opportunity to expand future sports betting to non-tribal card rooms and horse-racing sites.

Legislators struck down a bill in January that would have extended sports gambling past tribal sites. They contended that an expansion could lead to tax dollars not paid by tribes. Scoreboard, for instance, has generated $33.6 million in revenue since October 2019.

Instead, the tribes argued that their role in sports betting will have a sufficient, all-encompassing effect on the state’s economy.

“The revenue sports wagering provides — like all tribal gaming revenue — stays in Washington, creating jobs and increasing charitable contributions that benefit communities throughout the state,” argued Tulalip Tribes chairwoman Teri Gobin in a statement last month.

The legislative acceptance of that argument means sports betting will be limited to tribal casinos.

But even those boundaries – from casino floor to parking lot or parking garage – have become a sticking point for some legislators, with public officials butting heads with tribal representatives on the exact parameters of geofencing and how far mobile betting should stretch on tribal grounds.

So, while Oregon has failed to become a leading voice in American sports betting, it’s neighbor to the north remains well behind in cracking the code of the highly-profitable industry.

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George Myers

George Myers is a writer with extensive experience in both news and sports reporting. He has primarily covered baseball and football, along with the intersection of sports and lawmaking.

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