Chris Stearns, a commissioner with the Washington State Gambling Commission, said changing the state’s anti-gaming laws would require a two-thirds supermajority in the Legislature or a referendum. “ ... nothing can happen, obviously, until next year at the earliest,” he said.
A U.S. Supreme Court ruling Monday that overturned a federal sports-gambling law won’t automatically lead to fans being allowed to place Seahawks, Mariners and Sounders bets in this state.
Chris Stearns, a commissioner with the Washington State Gambling Commission, said changing our state’s tough anti-gaming laws would require a two-thirds supermajority in the Legislature or a referendum. Stearns said he’s yet to detect a groundswell of support for such change but acknowledged that could happen in light of the high court’s 6-3 ruling.
“Washington is still a pretty conservative state as far as gambling goes,” said Stearns, whose commission is tasked with enforcing Washington’s laws on gaming. “And this is entirely, 100 percent in the hands of the Legislature. So nothing can happen, obviously, until next year at the earliest.’’
He added: “I’m sure there will be probably a number of legislators that will be interested in it. I’m sure there will be an equal number of legislators that are probably not going to be thrilled about it.’’
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Horse racing is the only sport for which gambling is allowed in Washington.
The high court struck down the 1992 Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA), which had allowed some sports gaming only in the “grandfathered’’ states of Nevada, Delaware, Oregon and Montana. Of the four, only Nevada was allowed to offer gambling on the results of a single game.
“Congress can regulate sports gambling directly, but if it elects not to do so, each State is free to act on its own,” the court wrote. “Our job is to interpret the law Congress has enacted and decide whether it is consistent with the Constitution. PASPA is not.”
As a result, it’s now up to individual states to decide whether to legalize sports gaming. New Jersey, which led the Supreme Court fight against PASPA, is expected to implement legalized sports gambling within weeks. Delaware, Mississippi, New York, Pennsylvania and West Virginia could quickly follow.
The NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL and NCAA had opposed PASPA’s repeal, worried it could threaten the integrity of their leagues if not properly supervised. But the commissioners of the major pro-sports leagues have recently appeared more open to various forms of gambling. In the past, leagues feared that gambling interests could cause players, coaches and referees to influence the outcome of games.
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver stated in 2014 that legalized sports betting was inevitable and that his league could benefit financially from a regulated version of it. MLB commissioner Rob Manfred in 2015 partnered with DraftKings, a daily fantasy sports company whose operations have often been likened to a form of gambling.
The NHL awarded an expansion franchise to Las Vegas that began play last year, and the NFL’s Oakland Raiders will soon move there. Sports leagues had previously shied away from major pro teams operating in the nation’s gambling capital out of fears for the integrity of their products.
Tony Clark, executive director of the MLB Players’ Association, issued a statement Monday: “The Court’s decision is monumental, with far-reaching implications for baseball players and the game we love.
“From complex intellectual property questions to the most basic issues of player safety, the realities of widespread sports betting must be addressed urgently and thoughtfully to avoid putting our sport’s integrity at risk as states proceed with legislation.’’
Mark Conrad, director of the sports business program at Fordham University’s Gabelli School of Business and a frequent commentator on sports gaming issues, said a need for more revenue could be among the pressures that push some states to legalize before others.
Other pressures to approve sports betting, he added, might involve “sports fans if they want to do gaming companies that would love to have a foothold in the Seattle market. I think maybe even sports teams, if they could find a way to monetize it. The Seattle pro teams may get a sponsor and call it ‘The official gambling sponsor’ or ‘gambling company of the Mariners.’
“So, there are certainly pros involved,’’ Conrad said. “The cons are, the colleges would not be happy if it extended to college sports because of the history of corruption.’’
Conrad also envisions opposition to any state law change coming from religious groups opposed to sports gambling on moral grounds, while some Indian tribes running their own gaming operations — which don’t include sports betting — might be worried about a loss of revenue.
Gambling Commissioner Stearns agreed that in Washington, “certainly, the tribes in the state will have a very large say. But it may also depend on what kind of pressure comes from outside of the state. Does the Oregon lottery move on sports betting? Well, that can have an effect on Washington.’’
Stearns said he didn’t detect a groundswell of public support for daily fantasy sports in Washington when that issue arose three years ago during gambling commission hearings.
“I didn’t get deluged by requests for people to change the law,’’ he said. “Most of the efforts seemed to come from the industry. From the operators themselves — the DraftKings and the FanDuels and the Fantasy Sports Trade Association. They are the ones who really made the big push, but it felt like it was in a vacuum. If you went to the hearings, they weren’t exactly packed hearings.”
Ultimately, he added, “the will of the people’’ will come into play if enough want sports betting badly enough to push it through the political process.
Geoff Freeman, president and CEO of the American Gaming Association — which promotes the interests of casinos nationwide — issued a statement Monday saying the court’s ruling “makes it possible for states and sovereign tribal nations to give Americans what they want: an open, transparent, and responsible market for sports betting.
“Through smart, efficient regulation this new market will protect consumers, preserve the integrity of the games we love, empower law enforcement to fight illegal gambling, and generate new revenue for states, sporting bodies, broadcasters and many others.”