Sports wagering in Washington tribal casinos cleared its final political hurdle Wednesday and could be offered in some by the opening week of the NFL season.
The U.S. Department of the Interior approved sports gambling compact amendments for the Puyallup, Tulalip, Snoqualmie, Spokane, Cowlitz, Squaxin, Suquamish, Stillaguamish and Lummi tribes, and applications by Muckleshoot, Swinomish, Skokomish, Kalispel, Jamestown S’Klallam, Shoalwater Bay and the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation are pending.
Several tribes are in the process of finalizing vendors and other steps to help carry out the sports gambling, and some may be ready by opening week of the NFL season.
The Washington State Gambling Commission in late July gave final approval to sports gambling proposals outlined by tribes, hoping to have everything in place by the Sept. 9 NFL season opener. Native American tribes see the NFL season as a prime source of sports gambling revenue at a time their communities — badly hit by COVID-19 shortfalls — need additional money to provide various health, education and other social services.
“We’ve worked diligently with the Washington State Gambling Commission, the Snoqualmie Gaming Commission and our vendors for them to submit license applications and are currently on track for the opening week of the 2021 NFL season,” Stanford Le, president and CEO of the Snoqualmie Casino, said in an email after Wednesday’s announcement.
Rebecca George, executive director of the Washington Indian Gaming Association — which promotes the benefits of tribal gaming — said the approval represents a landmark, critical step. A statement issued by George after Wednesday’s approval said regulated sports betting at tribal casinos should begin “in the next few months,” but in a subsequent interview she stopped short of specifying a time frame.
George said Wednesday that the timing for sports gambling to go live will much depend on individual casinos and how far along they are in implementing needed measures. Those include securing approved vendors as well as navigating other potential security, bureaucratic and logistical issues.
“It’s not a race,” she said. “We all have the same end goal. We are creating a new gambling product and system within our state that we want to bring to market in a safe and regulated way.”
She added: “These things take time. I think what you’re seeing is what has been there all along. And that’s a very careful, methodical approach to gambling that we have always taken and is the reason why the state has confidence in our ability to undertake sports gambling for the first time in the state of Washington.”
A public affairs consultant with the gaming association said last week that actual gaming is still likely several weeks away for some casinos given the continued pursuit and approval of vendors.
Momentum has surged to legalize sports gambling nationwide since May 2018, when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a federal law banning such betting everywhere but Las Vegas and a handful of other places. Individual states can now chart their own course, and more than two dozen, Washington now among them, have authorized some form of sports wagering.
The final approval for the nine tribes marks the culmination of an at-times controversial, yearslong battle to get sports wagering approved in Washington, which boasts some of the nation’s toughest anti-gambling laws.
A law approving sports gambling only within Washington’s tribal casinos was passed in March 2020, but it took more than a year after that for tribal compact amendments to be negotiated with the state.
Among the more contentious issues: What to do about mobile wagering, which remains a Class C felony in Washington along with any other form of online gambling. For sports gambling purposes, mobile wagering will now be allowed only within tribal casinos and their surrounding premises, using a geofenced virtual perimeter to block any outside access.