Washington Facing Scrutiny for Tribal Casinos' Sports Betting Monopoly

Washington Facing Scrutiny for Tribal Casinos' Sports Betting Monopoly

As more and more places are legalizing sports betting in all of its forms, the state of Washington is now under scrutiny for its own gaming laws. Currently, they only allow tribal casinos to offer sports-betting options and continue to reject legislation that would allow other operations to obtain sports-gambling licenses. This, naturally, has angered card rooms, which are other gambling establishments that have been legalized and located throughout the state.

At this writing, online sports betting is legal in the USA for more than half of the states. Most of these locations have approved nearly every form of sports betting and offered licenses to sportsbooks not associated with tribal casinos.

Technically speaking, Washington state has legal sports betting and falls under this umbrella. Really, though, their offerings are more limited than most other states. And as a result of these restrictions, Washington now faces scrutiny for what's been deemed a tribal casino sports-betting monopoly.

Which begs the question: What does this all say about the future of legal sports betting in the state of Washington?

Sports Betting Laws in Washington State

Back in March 2020, Washington officially legalized sports betting throughout the state. There was, however, a catch-22: It only applied to tribal casinos. This effectively meant that other on-site bookies as well as all of the top online sportsbooks we've reviewed were not licensed within Washington as part of that legalization.

Though this decision no doubt peeved companies hoping to crack another sports-betting market, it especially angered card rooms in Washington. The state has legalized a series of them, which are operated by various companies, but none of them are able to accept bets on sports.

As many have since argued, allowing tribal casinos to function as sportsbooks effectively cuts into the markets of those same card rooms. How are they supposed to compete with entities that can offer their customers so many more services, including table card games and video card games?

This stance has yet to force any sort of change. There have been a handful of bills proposed over the past couple of years that would have expanded Washington's sports betting laws, but they've all been rejected. The most recent attempt didn't even make it onto the voting floor, which suggests there may not be any real change in Washington anytime soon.

With that said, one card-room company is trying to impact Washington's sports-betting laws in another way.

Could Tribal Casinos Lose Sports Betting Privileges

Since Washington has so far refused to open up sports betting to other non-tribal sources, Maverick Gaming LLC, which operates 19 of the 44 card rooms located throughout the state, filed a federal lawsuit in Washington, D.C. that claims "Washington state officials unlawfully granted Native American casinos a discriminatory tribal gaming monopoly," according to the Seattle Times.

This lawsuit from Maverick comes after owner and operator Eric Persson unsuccessfully tried lobbying the state to loosen their sports betting laws on multiple occasions. If this action by the company is successful, it would force tribal casinos to cease their sports gambling operations.

Whether Maverick's case has a chance of being pushed through remains debatable. Overall, though, they do have a leg to stand on. It helps, too, that this is a federal lawsuit, which must be fought by the state rather than judged by it. And with so many other places in the United States offering more open-ended sports-betting laws, there's a chance a federal judge could take Maverick's side.

The company has also tried to inflate its likelihood of success by hiring Ted Olsen to be the primary lawyer for this case. He was, as the Seattle Times pointed out, "the lead counsel for the state of New Jersey in the successful U.S. Supreme Court challenge that in 2018 overturned a federal law barring sports gambling in all but Las Vegas and a handful of other places." 

This, of course, is a different type of lawsuit. Maverick isn't trying to open up sports betting laws in Washington; they are trying to shut down the casinos currently allowed to operate as sportsbooks.

Future of Sports Betting in Washington is...Murky

The goal of Maverick's lawsuit is clear. While they are attempting to shut down sports-betting operations from tribal casinos, they're actually hoping to set the stage for new laws entirely. 

If Washington is forced to close down sports-betting operations in casinos, it will cost both the tribes and state a ton in annual revenue. In that scenario, the belief is both the casinos and local government would be more in favor of opening up sportsbook activities to other betting sites and bookies. One slice of pie, after all, is better than 100 percent of no pie.

Still, we shouldn't take this to mean Washington will legalize sports betting across the board in the near future. Not only is it unclear whether Maverick's lawsuit will be successful, but the tribes are bound to fight a potential verdict that doesn't go in their favor. That opposition could take a while. 

And even if Washington gets to a point where they're ready to open up the sports-betting floodgates, it takes a huge chunk of time to actually implement it. The state would need to accept and review applications for sportsbooks licenses, oversee the arrival of online presences and infrastructures, hold soft openings in which they work out the kinks and do a bunch of other things before the process is complete.

Realistically, then, we shouldn't expect to see legal sports betting come to Washington prior to 2023—if at all.

Take a look at this list of the top online sportsbooks so you can find a home for your sports betting outside of the casino:

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