Washington Sports Betting Bill Passes Legislature, But Trouble Looms

Posted on March 6, 2020 - Last Updated on May 12, 2020

A much-debated Washington sports betting bill that limits sportsbooks to tribal casinos is on its way to Gov. Jay Inslee‘s desk. But the battle is far from over as a lawsuit likely awaits the state should Inslee sign.

The bill was approved by the House Saturday 83-14 after a 34-15 vote in the Senate on Thursday. ESHB 2638 needed to be re-approved by the House after Senate amendments, including one that banned betting on minor league sports.

The final hearing on the Senate floor included much of the same debate heard in both chambers, which was whether card rooms should be included.

Sen. Ann Rivers, who has both card rooms and a tribal casino in her district, said she couldn’t vote for the bill when was the opportunity to be fair to both sides.

“It’s sad for me tonight that I feel like one child is beating the daylights out of the other child,” she said.

Washington sports betting emergency clause

A lot of the Senate debate also centered around whether ESHB 2638 actually required an emergency clause.

Proponents of the bill, including Sen. Karen Keiser, said it’s crucial to get funding to the state’s gaming regulator immediately to fight the illegal sports betting market.

Others, like Sen. Mike Braun, argued against taking the decision away from Washington’s citizens. Without the emergency clause, any expansion of gambling would ultimately be decided by referendum.

“I cannot agree that we’re going to keep this from going to a vote of the people,” he said. “I do not buy this is somehow a crisis.”

Lawsuit coming from Maverick Gaming

Maverick Gaming CEO Eric Persson said there’s a different reason for the emergency clause.

Persson’s company owns 19 of the state’s 44 card rooms and has done polling on sports betting. There’s no road to the 60% majority required for the referendum for a tribal-only bill, he said.

Persson told LSR that he would, “of course,” sue if the legislation passes. Maverick solicited a legal opinion from the former state senator and Washington Supreme Court Justice Phil Talmadge that there’s no legal reason for the emergency clause.

Another opinion from former Washington Attorney General Rob McKenna said the legislation likely would hold up if challenged, Sen. Tim Sheldon said Thursday.

Commercial sports betting bills died in committee

The bills that would have opened sports betting up to commercial and tribal operations never made it out of committee.

However, the bills that allowed both sides to participate with an open mobile offering received the most support from Washingtonians, Persson said.

The commercial effort wasn’t perfect as it banned in-state college betting. But it would have created 44 total sports betting licenses that could have led to a very competitive market.

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Matthew Waters

Matthew Waters is a reporter covering legal sports betting and the gambling industry. Previous stops include Fantini Research and various freelance jobs covering professional and amateur sports in Delaware and the Philadelphia area.

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