Nicholas K. Geranios
SPOKANE, Wash. — A bill to expand sports gambling in Washington state beyond tribal casinos and into privately-owned card rooms has been introduced in the state Legislature for the second consecutive year.
The Senate bill seeks to expand sports betting to include the state's licensed card rooms and horse race tracks and is once again being pushed by Nevada-based Maverick Gaming.
A similar proposal failed last year, but supporters say the new effort has bipartisan support and could provide revenues to help the state's economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Last session, lawmakers approved sports gambling for tribes, but that has yet to take effect as government compacts are still being negotiated. Lawmakers at the same time rebuffed a bill seeking to open sports gambling to non-tribal competition.
But that happened before the pandemic damaged the economy.
Maverick Gaming chief executive Eric Persson said the company remained committed to improving the economy of Washington state.
The bill "lays out a modest approach that will generate economic opportunity for our workforce, create approximately 10 new jobs at each of our 19 locations, and help spark pandemic relief efforts by contributing tens of millions of new tax dollars to local and state programs," he said.
Senate Bill 5212 is co-sponsored by Republican state Sen. Curtis King of Yakima and Democratic floor leader Sen. Marko Liias of Lynnwood. It would apply only to existing card rooms and racetracks. It allows for online sports gambling, but only within the limits of the gaming venues.
Persson, a Hoquiam native whose company controls 19 of Washington's 44 licensed card rooms, has estimated up to $50 million in state taxes can be generated annually off sports gambling.
For decades, tribal casinos have operated most of the legalized gambling in Washington. The state allows limited gambling outside tribal facilities in "card room" casinos, but only card games such as blackjack and some poker are allowed.
The pressure to legalize sports gambling has grown nationwide since the U.S. Supreme Court in 2018 struck down a federal law that had banned it everywhere but Las Vegas and a handful of other jurisdictions.
Individual states can now determine their own course and Washington joined two dozen others last year in legalizing it in some form.
State lawmakers have long argued that Washington's tribal casinos have a three-decade record of offering safe, responsible gambling.
The Washington Indian Gaming Association, which represents the interests of tribal casinos, opposed the proposal last year and will oppose it again this year, executive director Rebecca George said.
Tribes have shown they know how to properly offer gambling, employ about 30,000 people statewide, and use gambling revenues to fund their operations and social programs, George said.
"We're talking about government gaming,'' George said. "The money goes into government programs. We're not an out-of-state corporation."
Granting card rooms the right to offer sports betting "takes money out of poor communities," George said.
Under the bill:
—Only existing licensed cardrooms and racetracks would be eligible for a sports betting license
—Each facility must have its own license and would be charged a $100,000 licensing fee.
—A state-level 10 percent tax would be imposed on the operators on all gross revenues from sports wagers. This tax would be in addition to the taxes levied at the local level.
The bill would not allow any betting on college sports events that take place in Washington state or that involve a Washington state team. Betting on electronic sports, high school sports, and competitive video games would be prohibited.