Panel OKs sports betting at Washington tribal casinos, Gov. Inslee needs to approve

The Washington State Gambling Commission on Thursday approved amendments to gambling compacts for 15 Native American tribes that are a major step to allowing those tribes to offer sports betting at their casinos.

Commissioners voted 7-0, with two excused, on the requests from all 15 tribes to approve the amendments and send them to Gov. Jay Inslee for his approval.

This was the next step in the complicated process of allowing sports betting, following approval last year by the state Legislature.

"We have 15 sports wagering amendments going to the governor’s office," commission chair Bud Sizemore said after the vote.

If the governor approves, the issue will be sent to the federal government for approval.

Rebecca George, Executive Director of the Washington Indian Gaming Association (WIGA), today issued the following statement:

"Today’s announcement that the Tulalip Tribes has reached a tentative agreement on a compact with the state to allow sports wagering at Tulalip Resort Casinos represents the next major milestone in our state’s more than two decade track record of building a safe, responsible system of tribal gaming – a system that has created more than 37,000 jobs and more than $700 million annually in revenue for state and local governments in Washington. Tribes and state regulators have consistently worked together to carefully craft effective compact agreements like the one announced today, which allow responsible adults access to gaming while protecting against negative social consequences. This demonstrates that the legislature was right when it passed historic, bipartisan legislation in the 2020 session allowing sports betting on the premises of tribal casinos."

Numerous tribes extolled the financial benefits of gambling and said sports betting would expand revenues that are used to support a wide variety of social programs and other operations by once-impoverished tribes.

"I ask respectfully the commission to pass this forward," said Stanford Lee, chief executive officer of the Snoqualmie Casino.

The Tulalip Tribes told the commission that tribes are collectively the seventh-largest employer in the state, with non-Indians making up 70% of the workforce. They said sports betting will create even more jobs for Washingtonians.

While casinos have provided an economic boom for tribes, there is still much work to be done, said Jaison Elkins, chairman of the Muckleshoot Tribe.

"The effects of poverty, neglect and disease are not easily overcome," Elkins said. "We use every dollar from gaming."

RELATED: Washington state moving forward with plans to allow sports gambling

Shoalwater Bay tribal chair Charlene Nelson said the tribe needs money to continue moving tribal members off flood-prone areas to higher ground.

Carol Evans, chair of the Spokane Tribe, said additional money will help the tribe preserve its traditional language.

"Gaming is good," Evans said.

People testified that tribes have a three-decade record of successfully offering gambling in a safe environment, with the funds going not to private investors but to government programs.

Numerous Washington tribes have received preliminary approval to pursue sports gambling, according to the Gambling Commission.

Sports betting at tribal casinos became an option after a 2018 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court that struck down a 1992 federal law that banned commercial sports betting in most states. Following that decision, the Washington Legislature last year passed House Bill 2638 to allow sports gambling at tribal casinos. The Legislature rejected an effort to allow private card rooms to allow sports betting.

While the framework of the deals has been reached, all the tribal compacts must go through a series of state and federal approvals before sports wagering can start.

In April, Gambling Commission chair Bud Sizemore said he was hopeful sports wagering can begin in Washington before the NFL regular season starts.

The bill passed by the Legislature would allow gambling on major league professional sports, the Olympic Games and other international events. There would also be betting on college sports, with the exception of no betting on games involving in-state schools. There will be no online or mobile gaming options outside the walls of tribal casinos.

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