Gov. Inslee signs bill allowing sports betting in Washington’s tribal casino

Native American tribal casinos, now closed statewide and losing millions of dollars daily due to coronavirus fears, got a boost Wednesday when Gov. Jay Inslee signed into law a bill authorizing sports betting within those venues.

It still could take months for any sports betting to actually occur, given the continued uncertainty surrounding COVID-19, the illness caused by the novel coronavirus. Also, the state first must negotiate sports-gaming compacts with those among the 29 Washington tribes that wish to have sports betting within their casinos.

But those discussions should begin once the immediate crisis subsides, now that HB 2638 rocketed through the House and Senate in bipartisan fashion despite at times bitter opposition from some lawmakers and state card-room operators. State tribes take in an estimated $2.8 billion annually through legalized gambling, which is used to fund a wide array of services within their communities.

“It feels timely that everything we’ve been saying is funded by our [tribal] government gaming is now in jeopardy,” said Rebecca Kaldor, executive director of the Washington Indian Gaming Association, a nonprofit group that promotes tribal gaming. “And so, the silver lining is that this will be an added amenity tribes can use to get our communities back up and running in a healthy way.’’

Washington becomes the 21st state where some sports betting is either taking place or awaiting launch. Numerous other states have sports-gaming legislation in the works after the U.S. Supreme Court in May 2018 struck down a federal law that had banned such gambling in all but a handful of places.

Individual states can now chart their own sports-gambling course.

In this year’s shortened legislative session, HB 2638, sponsored by Rep. Strom Peterson, D-Edmonds, gained speedy traction despite virulent opposition led by Nevada-based card room operator Maverick Gaming. The company argued that an emergency clause attached to the bill — preventing it from being subjected to a statewide referendum — was unlawful and could be struck down in court.

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