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Chris Stearns Reappointed to Washington State Gambling Commission

SEATTLE -- Gov. Jay Inslee reappointed Chris Stearns, Navajo, to the Washington State Gambling Commission on May 4. His term will expire June 30, 2021.

Inslee first appointed Stearns to the commission in May 2013 to fill in for a commissioner who left the position early. Commissioners re-elected Stearns chairman shortly after his reappointment.

Stearns is an attorney specializing in Indian law. He served four years as counsel to the U.S. House Committee on Natural Resources, and was the first-ever director of Indian Affairs for the U.S. Department of Energy. He served two terms as chairman of the Seattle Human Rights Commission, and is vice president of the Seattle Indian Health Board.

He is a graduate of Williams College and Cornell Law School.

During his first term, the commission negotiated an updated gaming compact with indigenous nations located in Washington State. The 27 amendments include an increase in each Nation’s allotment of gaming machines from 975 to 1,075, and the Nations agreed to reimburse the state for its regulatory costs.

In his next term, Stearns wants to prepare the state for evolving technology in gaming – technology that is making gaming more accessible and could, depending on future legislation, require new regulations.

“New technology has just exploded,” Stearns said. "Virtual technology, in the future, could connect people who are isolated [to casino gaming]. It could offer a casino patron the opportunity to play from a mobile device.”

Stearns foresees a day when a digital casino could be accessed via a virtual reality headset – designed to make the user feel as if he or she is present in a simulated place. An indigenous nation that doesn’t have a casino or is located in an isolated area could open a “virtual” casino without the need for brick-and-mortar construction.

Also being watched: The evolution of currently free-to-play games on mobile devices (the online and mobile game industry – Candy Crush, anyone? -- could generate $48 billion in revenue in 2016, according to industry reviews); pending legislation in several states that would legalize online wagering (it’s illegal in Washington, but under consideration in several states).

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The Washington State Gambling Commission is a limited-jurisdiction law enforcement agency and the only state agency devoted to the licensing, regulation and enforcement of gambling. The commission’s law enforcement agents investigate gambling-related crime, audit games to ensure correct payouts, and work undercover monitoring games for integrity.

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