Progress on Washington State’s sports betting bill is thrilling but leaves us with many questions

It seems that the Washington State Legislature has made some progress this week regarding legalizing some form of sports betting in the state according to Seattle Times.

 

On February 13, 2020, the State House passed a bill to allow sports betting inside tribal casinos by an overwhelming vote of 83 to 14. The bill now proceeds to the State Senate, where a vote could take place next month. Finally, a bill legalizing sports gambling in tribal casinos could reach Governor Jay Inslee’s desk by spring. If passed by the state senate and signed by the Governor, the bill would allow betting on both college and pro sports. Olympic events and e-sports would also be included, but gambling on any games involving schools from the state of Washington would be prohibited.

 

Furthermore, if passed, it would also restrict betting to brick-and-mortar tribal casino sportsbooks. Online sports betting, including fantasy-based FanDuel and Draft Kings, would remain prohibited by law.

 

That leaves residents in the Evergreen State with a few questions.

 

Let’s Put Those Questions in Context

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There are currently 20 states with some form of legalized sports betting, and there are 17 additional states that are projected to legalize sports betting within the next two years. That adds up to 37 out of 50 states that seem to be on board. Washington is not included, and has been left behind on what is essentially a ship to prosperity.

 

It should be clear to lawmakers in Washington State, this is an issue important to voters; it won’t go away even if lawmakers continue to ignore it. This may explain why there’s been an unexpected bi-partisan push to move the gambling bill forward quickly.

 

Something could actually happen to legalize sports betting in the Evergreen State very soon.

 

One of the best arguments in favor of sports betting is that the state could use the tax revenue to fund essential services such as infrastructure, education or affordable housing. However, under the current bill under consideration, none of that money will go to the state. Aside from around $5 million from the various tribes to the Washington State Gambling Commission to be used to set up a regulatory body, there will be no tax revenue to benefit all of the residents of the state.

 

The Tribal Argument

 

However, Washington State’s local tribes do generate more than $722 million state and tax revenue, according to a Suquamish Tribal chairman. And the tribes do invest millions of dollars toward housing, education, and healthcare, as well as donating to many different charities and non-profits. But many residents of the state feel that the fact of the matter is, the state is handing tribal casinos the key to the “sports betting castle,” locking out the rest of the state from the benefits.

 

The fact of the matter is, the Evergreen State is very conservative when it comes to gaming. Yet, the state is very liberal when it comes to social matters, such as maintaining the rights of people of color. State lawmakers would rather allow tribal casinos to pay $5 million for a regulatory body, rather than the state taking on that responsibility. The tribes have successfully run casinos for decades in the state, but the state at large does not benefit.

 

While East Coast states like Delaware, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania are doing quite well, and with so many states legalizing sports gambling, including our neighbor Oregon, and Washington’s close proximity to Nevada, there is no indication of any significant gambling revenue for our state. As long as all sports betting is restricted to tribal casinos.

 

However, our neighbors in Oregon do have the choice to wager from anywhere in their state on a mobile app that’s under the control of Oregon’s Lottery. Likewise, they can place bets in-person at the only tribal casino, so far, that’s operating a sportsbook. Sadly, that won’t be the case in Washington, as the bill is currently written.

 

It’s also very curious that an emergency amendment subjecting the sports betting bill to a statewide referendum was blocked. It may not gain enough support to pass by a statewide vote, but it’s becoming clear that the state’s lawmakers don’t want to do this.

 

Again, this is a step forward towards the Evergreen State legalizing sports gambling. Perhaps by next football season, Washingtonians won’t have to fly to Vegas to put down legal bets on the Seahawks to win the Super Bowl. In essence, beggars can’t be choosers, and Washington sports fans will likely have to take whatever the legislators in Olympia hand them.

 

But that doesn’t mean the state’s legislators have the best interest of their constituents in mind. In essence, the state’s legislators can’t see the forest through the trees. By refusing to take what they see as a risk, they are denying the state what could be a future windfall.

 

While nothing is ever guaranteed, the sad fact is, this state is not willing to take the bet.

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