Snoqualmie Casino CEO Stanford Le says his venue’s planned Thursday opening of the state’s first legalized sports gambling took plenty of communication and legwork before and after last week’s final federal government approval.

The casino’s 11 a.m. launch of Washington state’s first sportsbook comes just ahead of Thursday night’s season-opening NFL clash between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Dallas Cowboys. Snoqualmie is the first to go live of the nine in-state tribes greenlit for sports wagering last week by the U.S. Department of the Interior, with another seven tribal applications pending.

“Obviously, there’s revenue implications to that,” Le said of launching with the NFL season. “But more importantly, the timing was just right, the fervor for football season. This is making history. So having a natural time frame, the kickoff of the NFL season and the kickoff of our sportsbook and being the first in Washington all just made a lot of sense.”

Le’s casino was ready before others because it swiftly navigated a stringent, complex set of licensing regulations for hardware and software vendors used to implement the newly allowed gambling. And that process could be initiated only after last week’s federal go-ahead, meaning everything had to be flawlessly organized in advance for even a shot to make the NFL opener.

“You have to license the hardware and software before you can even implement it — bring it on the property,” Le said. “So once it’s brought on the property you have to test it and install it. You have to make sure the technicians that install it are actually licensed as well from a gaming standpoint. That’s how stringent the measures are here.”

But the casino communicated with vendors and regulators.

“Just making sure that everybody hit their licensing requirements, got their applications in on time,” Le said. “In some cases we were on the phone with vendors walking them through the licensing process to make sure they hit those deadlines.”

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There will be six sports gambling kiosks stationed throughout Snoqualmie’s casino floor, with another four staffed counter windows through which bets can be placed. On-site mobile wagering is still a few weeks away, as Snoqualmie conducts testing on that and the virtual geofence perimeter designed to prevent online betting beyond immediate casino grounds. 

Le expects a surge in new customers attracted to sports wagering and up to 1,000 people for the opening. His casino will have a system for customers to line up at the four betting counters, with additional staffers prepared to answer questions while prospective bettors wait their turn.

“In some cases, they’ll be educating them about using the kiosks so they don’t even have to stand in line,” Le said. “We’ll have team members working the line and making sure that people know a little bit about the betting before they reach the window.”

The casino is also offering a Sports Betting 101 primer on its Snocasino.com website under the sportsbook heading. 

Sports wagering has flourished nationwide since the U.S. Supreme Court in May 2018 struck down a law banning it in all but Las Vegas and a handful of other jurisdictions. Washington is now one of 26 states to approve a form of such gambling.

The American Gaming Association — a trade group that pushes casino interests — said this week that its annual survey of betting intentions nationwide showed a record 45.2 million people will wager legally and illegally on the NFL this season. That’s up 36% over last season, which the association largely attributes to increased sports betting legalization.

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The association expects online NFL wagering — the biggest growth area for this type of gambling — to jump 73%. 

Washington has some of the nation’s toughest anti-gambling laws, and even the limited sports wagering legalized here in March 2020 took years of legislative lobbying and 18 months of fine-tuning to reach this stage.

Online gambling remains a Class C felony in Washington, with the exception of new sports wagering rules authorizing some mobile betting only within a tribal casino’s geofenced premises. That will limit the legal sports betting market here compared with states such as New Jersey, the nation’s leader with more than $6 billion wagered mostly online last year. 

Efforts to expand sports gambling beyond tribal communities and into commercial card rooms have also gained slow traction with state lawmakers. For now, the tribal casinos — which oppose an expansion of such gambling beyond their territory — will be a testing ground for how safely and securely such betting unfolds.

Rebecca George, executive director of the Washington Indian Gaming Association — which promotes tribal gaming interests — said after last week’s federal approval that Native American communities depend on gambling revenue to fund governmental services such as housing, medical care and education. 

“This is very different from commercial gaming,” she said.

With all eyes on how tribes handle their exclusively granted sportsbooks, Le admitted feeling pressure to get things right. Among approved Snoqualmie vendors is an “integrity monitoring company” keeping a list of pro team employees barred from placing bets.

“You know who Russell Wilson is, but do you know who the trainer is that pumps up the football?” Le said. “You wouldn’t recognize them, so the integrity monitoring company keeps a list of the people that can and cannot wager on sports.

“So those are some of the protections we have in place behind the scenes. We really wanted to make sure that we put out a good product and protected the integrity of the game.”