The Washington State Gambling Commission has unanimously approved 15 newly negotiated tribal compact agreements, a pivotal step in the extensive regulatory process that soon will allow sports betting to go live at tribal casinos.
These revised compacts will now be signed by tribal chairs and the governor, and then be sent for federal review, which will happen over the next few months. The culmination of a bipartisan supermajority vote in the 2020 legislative session in Olympia that authorized sports betting at tribal casinos, the commission’s action is a step forward, not just for tribal communities but for all Washington state residents.
This approval highlights the strong and collaborative partnership between tribes and the state that has emerged over the last three decades as our carefully regulated system of gaming has taken shape. By fitting sports betting into the existing — and proven — tribal gaming system, the state has ensured that sports-betting revenues will stay in Washington and go toward uplifting local communities that have faced decades of hardship — from lack of basic infrastructure, limited economic and employment opportunities, as well as systemic discrimination.
The benefits of tribal gaming aren’t limited to tribal communities — this activity creates jobs, boosts the economy and funds critical services benefiting all in Washington state. Tribal gaming revenues support more than 37,000 jobs, with 70 percent of those jobs held by nontribal members. In 2017, the Indian economy in Washington state yielded more than $5.3 billion in contributions to the state economy, including $1.5 billion in employee payroll and $3 billion in purchased goods and services, as well as an estimated $806 million in federal, state and local government revenue.
Those revenues are critical to lifting up historically marginalized tribal communities. Between European settlement and the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988, most tribal members lived in poverty and lacked even basic services. As Nisqually Chairman Willie Frank recently reminisced, his community did not even have running water until the 1970s.
Tribal gaming is changing that dynamic. That’s because tribal gaming dollars are government dollars, spent for community benefit. The revenues fund important programs that: build housing, support families, create educational opportunities and skills training, stewardship investment for the environment and natural resources, provide health care, and keep tribal cultures, languages and histories alive. The benefits are real, but we still have a long way to go to repair the legacy of four centuries of entrenched discrimination and mistreatment of Native Americans.
That is why the efforts by a private gambling company, owner of 19 nontribal card rooms and local minicasinos around the state, to expand sports betting and other gambling options is the wrong approach. The company is backed by a deep-pocketed hedge fund that specializes in international gambling investments. While their proposals to legalize sports betting at neighborhood card rooms has twice been rejected in Olympia, they have vowed to continue lobbying the Legislature, and if they get their way they will siphon tribal gaming revenues from providing public services in Washington to instead fund wealthy out-of-state gambling investors. That would hurt tribes’ ability to provide needed services, and it would undercut our state economy as well.
Our state has taken a cautious and deliberative approach to gaming, and limiting sports betting to tribal casinos keeps with this approach. Carefully controlling access and keeping gambling out of the vast majority of neighborhoods protects public safety. And if you chose to place a sports bet at a tribal casino, rest assured it will be subject to multiple layers of regulation and oversight. Tribal gaming has been and will continue to be conducted in a safe and responsible manner.
That is why tribal gaming enjoys widespread public support across our state. Public opinion research conducted earlier this year showed that more than 70 percent of Washington state voters supported gaming on tribal lands and, by a two-to-one margin, support the law that limits sports betting to tribal casinos, most of which are located at a distance from population centers. Soon, interested adults will be able to travel to a tribal casino to wager on major league pro sports, Olympic events, and collegiate sports (betting on in-state colleges is prohibited).
The public understands that the tribal gaming system is safe and limited, and that it strikes the right public policy balance. All of us are benefiting from the current system, and with tribal and state governments working together in a close partnership to regulate gaming activities, we can all rest assured that sports betting will also be conducted responsibly in Washington.