Is Washington Sports Betting Bill Destined For A Court Challenge?

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Washington sports betting

A bill that would limit Washington sports betting operations to tribal casinos passed the House late Thursday but could eventually wind up in court.

Opponents’ argument for a legal challenge stems from an emergency amendment approved for HB 2638. The amendment from Rep. Jim Walsh would legalize the law immediately, taking away any potential for a referendum.

Getting 60% of voter approval is typically necessary to change gaming law in the state.

“The emergency clause is something we welcome because we think it’s flawed logic and there is no emergency,” Maverick Gaming CEO Eric Persson said. “We think ultimately through litigation this legislation would probably be thrown out.”

It’s clear to Persson why the legislature wants to skip a sports betting referendum.

“I’m sure they’ve done polling on Washingtonians like we have. They know there’s no path to 60%,” he said. 

Maverick behind more robust betting bill

Maverick Gaming has a vested interest in seeing the tribal effort fail. It owns 19 of the state’s 44 cardrooms.

The company helped craft SB 6277 and HB 2478, which would open Washington sports betting up to both cardrooms and tribal casinos along with full online.

The tribal bill only allows online while at a tribal casino property.

Those commercial efforts are now dead this year after not being taken up for a vote in committee.  Persson previously said he didn’t expect either initiative to pass during a shortened session in an election year.

The tribal effort previously held one edge over the commercial effort: legal in-state WA sports betting. That changed in the tribal substitute that passed the House.

House sponsor sees bill as a positive

Rep. Strom Peterson, the sponsor of HB 2638, sees the bill overall as a positive for the state, he told the Seattle Times.

“Incredibly proud of the strong 83-14 bipartisan vote,” Peterson said. “We have found a good middle path that supports our tribal partners, allows adults to safely access sports betting and protects our youth.”

The Times editorial page disagreed with Peterson in an opinion piece that said limiting Washington sports betting to the 29 tribal casinos is a “flawed approach.”

What Washington sports betting amendment says

The amendment cites safety as the need for immediate enaction:

“This act is necessary for the immediate preservation of the public peace, health, or safety, or support of the state government and its existing public institutions, and takes effect immediately.”

Phil Talmadge, a former state senator and Washington Supreme Court justice, disagrees in an opinion solicited by Maverick.

Persson said he will “of course” take the legislation to court should it pass.

“I have the money, the time and the guts to fight it so let’s do it,” he said. “That’s how I’m looking at it.”

Legal opinion: WA sports betting not emergent situation

The problem with the emergency amendment is there’s really no need for it, according to Talmadge. He’s now an appeals attorney with Talmadge/Fitzpatrick.

Gaming legislation alone does not qualify as emergent, he said in the Maverick-backed opinion. The bill also adds no revenue to the state government, so saying its immediate enaction is needed to support the state is not true, he added.

Claiming the bill is necessary for the immediate preservation of public peace, health or safety is highly suspect and will ensure lengthy litigation, Talmadge said.

Persson: Joint legislation ‘only way forward’

All of the surveys Maverick did suggests joint legislation including both the tribes and the cardrooms is the only way forward, Persson said.

“All of the polling we’ve done statewide, the feedback is really clear,” he said. “It shouldn’t be a monopoly and it should be taxed. Those taxed dollars should go toward great social causes. That’s what the overwhelming majority of Washingtonians say.”