A company owning nearly half Washington’s “card-room” casinos threw its support Friday behind a new legislative push to legalize sports gambling throughout the state both in land-based and mobile form.
Maverick Gaming LLC had been a driving force behind this week’s introduction of HB-2478 and companion SB-6277, which seek to legalize widespread sports betting through licensed card rooms, racetracks and tribal casinos for pro sports everywhere and college sports outside Washington. The bills are sponsored by Rep. Brandon Vick (R-Vancouver) and Sens. Ann Rivers (R-La Center) and Curtis King (R-Yakima).
“We’ve done our best to be as inclusive and build as broad a base of support as possible for legislation we think can be successful,” said Eric Persson, a Hoquiam native and CEO and co-founder of Nevada-based Maverick, which in the past year has acquired 19 of the state’s 44 card rooms and is in the process of purchasing five more. “We’re looking forward to partnering with the Native American tribes in the state to bring a service to the Washingtonian public that there’s clearly a demand for.”
A competing effort at legalizing sports gambling — launched last year and initially sponsored by a current NHL Seattle director — has been focused on limiting the activity to Native American tribal venues.
And that renders unlikely any immediate “partnering’’ between the two camps, given the potential money at stake in a state with some of the nation’s toughest anti-gambling laws and where sports betting anywhere is outlawed. Any casinos here beyond tribal lands are limited to card rooms — also called “mini casinos” — where poker, blackjack and other card games can be played against the house but not individuals and where slot machines, video lottery terminals and video pull tabs are prohibited.
Persson acknowledged although he’s had initial dialogue with some tribal groups, nothing much has come of it.
“While there have been conversations, I wouldn’t say that they’ve progressed,” he said. “I wouldn’t even say that they’ve been incredibly productive.”
States nationwide have looked at legalizing various forms of sports betting since the U.S. Supreme Court in 2018 quashed a federal law banning such activity since 1992. The striking down of the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act left it up to individual states to legalize sports betting, and 13 of them now allow it.
The sports-gambling bill previously introduced a year ago in the state legislature, HB-1975, says limiting such activity within tribal facilities already accustomed to gaming is the best way to regulate the practice and prevent abuses.
HB-1975 was sponsored by Rep. Eric Pettigrew (D-Seattle), who in October became an NHL Seattle community ambassador and director of suites services.
NHL Seattle has said it isn’t yet planning for legalized sports wagering once it launches play next year, despite partnering last October on a sponsorship deal with the Muckleshoot Casino. Pettigrew since that time has withdrawn as the primary HB-1975 sponsor, given his involvement with the team.
If that bill eventually passes in lieu of the new effort, Muckleshoot and other tribes would gain exclusive domain over sports betting, something Maverick CEO Persson argues would deprive Washington of up to $50 million in annual tax proceeds off such gambling statewide. Persson added only legalized, strictly regulated sports gaming can protect Washingtonians from fraud and other issues that arise when they illegally place sports bets through offshore entities.
The likelihood of either competing bill becoming law this legislative session seems remote given the shortened schedule due to it being an election year. Vick said Friday his newly sponsored HB-2478 will at least help lawmakers consider all possible options beyond tribal casinos.
“We’ve never had what I would really consider a rather robust discussion,” he said.
Rivers echoed her companion SB-6277 effort signifies “the start of a very full and robust conversation” and likely won’t come to a vote before next year.
“There are so many people to talk to and so many things to consider,” she said.
One hot topic will be “mobile” gambling, the fastest-growing sector within sports betting and comprising about 80% of it given the easy access that doesn’t require being in a physical location. Sports-gaming efforts in some states have been slowed by concerns such online betting makes it easier for minors to become gambling addicts.
Internet gambling of any kind is outlawed in Washington as a Class C felony.
Persson said regulating online betting here by allowing “qualified and vetted individuals” licensed by the state to control sports-gaming servers would discourage Washingtonians from “betting offshore where they have no protection.”
He hopes all sides eventually find common ground.
“I believe ultimately that we’ll all work together,” he said. “Because we’ll all benefit from this.”