Will the Push to Expand Washington Sports Betting Continue in 2024?

Dan Favale
By , Updated on: Sep 15, 2023 12:00 AM
This year’s push to expand Washington sports betting fell short, but it could be revived in 2024.

Earlier this year, an attempt to expand Washington sports betting laws fell short. But that doesn’t mean the fight is over. 

Back in 2020, The Evergreen State legalized sports gambling on the condition it be limited to wagering on tribal properties. This includes all online sports betting. Gamblers can submit wagers using sports betting apps that have partnered with licensed tribes, but those transactions must take place inside casinos or at least on their property. 

These terms have zero exceptions. Indeed, the current laws for sports betting in Washington are considered a giant step forward. Previously, the state had some of the most rigid anti-gambling laws in place. Even now, following the legalization of retail sports betting, violating any of Washington’s gambling policies is considered a Class C felony.

Still, Washington’s explicit laws have done nothing to slow interest in potential expansion. Cardrooms want to be considered part of the legal gaming equation. And then, of course, there are all the online sportsbooks in the United States. Those mobile operators are always looking to enter new markets. 

Yet, on the heels of a failed expansion bid earlier this year, the question remains: When, if ever, will Washington open up their current sports betting laws?

Why Did the Latest Attempt to Expand Washington Sports Betting Laws Ultimately Fail?

For the most part, this past year’s attempt to loosen Washington state sports betting laws had nothing to do with legalizing the ability to place mobile wagers from anywhere. Instead, it was built around the state’s cardrooms, who wish to be included under the current policy. But as Geoff Baker outlined for the Seattle Times, their argument didn’t gain much traction among decision-makers: Kirkland-based Maverick Gaming, which owns and operates 22 card rooms throughout Washington, filed a January 2022 lawsuit in U.S. District Court accusing state and federal officials of granting a ‘discriminatory tribal gaming monopoly’ over sports betting and other gambling such as roulette and craps. Maverick had asked the district court to invalidate the state’s groundbreaking 2020 sports gambling law — which went into effect on a case-by-case basis in September 2021 — and indefinitely put any such wagering on hold pending new legislative efforts to expand it beyond tribal entities to card rooms and other facilities. But Chief Judge David Estudillo of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington ruled on largely procedural grounds that the lawsuit itself posed ‘a substantial risk’ to the ‘sovereign interests’ of Indian tribes that had signed legal compacts on gambling with the state.

This is not an uncommon issue throughout the United States. Tribes generally have exclusive rights to gaming. Sports gambling laws are almost never able to materially shift or expand without their approval. 

That hasn’t proven to be an issue in some markets. In others, however, tribes have remained steadfastly against allowing cardrooms, bingo halls, bars, commercially operated retail locations or online sportsbooks into their regions. Their thinking almost always boils down to self-preservation. How can they continue to survive if they willingly increase competition among sports betting providers? This hesitance is usually reserved for online sportsbooks entering the market. Local tribes typically want to avoid jockeying for clients with entrenched corporate goliaths such as FanDuel, BetMGM, DraftKings, etc. 

As a modestly sized market, though, Washington sports betting has mostly avoided any serious push-back on that issue. The fight taking place is merely about other gaming establishments wanting a piece of the action. However, as things stand, we would bet against any expansion of Washington sports betting in 2024. Tribes have a lot of influence, and there hasn’t been a ton of support among legislature members. This year’s ruling in the U.S. District Court further cements that reality. But there is another ongoing case, outside the state, that could change everything.

The Future of Florida Sports Betting Could Influence the Expansion of Gambling in Washington

All eyes in the industry are currently on the battle over sports betting in Florida, for obvious reasons. Most recently, a panel from the United States Court of Appeals upheld the Seminole Tribe’s exclusive gaming compact with The Sunshine State. Similar to what’s happening in Washington, other casino and gaming operators in Florida want to be licensed sports gambling providers.

This particular decision serves as a valuable precedent for Washington state tribes, as they look to stave off sports betting expansion. But the plaintiffs in the Florida case already plan to try getting the issue elevated to the United States Supreme Court. And if that chamber rules in favor of the excluded casino and gaming operators, it would open the door for Maverick Gaming in Washington to relaunch their case. The company, in fact, has already said they intend to appeal the District Court decision with the Supreme Court, according to the Seattle Times. Most simply believe they’re waiting to see what happens with Florida, so that they could potentially strengthen their argument with the outcome.

Of course, this jumps plenty of steps in the process. The Supreme Court needs to accept these cases first. And even if they do (most expect they would), there are no assurances they side with the operators pushing for Washington sports betting expansion.

Finally, and complicated still, there’s no timeline for a resolution. If Maverick Gaming is waiting on a resolution in Florida, they may not get a chance to re-introduce their case until 2025. So while there’s clearly a groundswell to broaden Washington’s gambling laws, it seems all the key stakeholders have for the time being reached a standstill. We’ll probably know more about what comes next in Washington once we get real, actual clarity on Florida’s sports betting litigation.

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Meet the author

Dan Favale

Dan first began writing about sports back in 2011. At the time, his expertise lied in the NBA and NFL. More than one decade, that remains the case. But he's also expanded his catalog to include extensive knowledge and analysis on the NHL, MLB, tennis, NASCAR, college ba...

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