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Washington State’s slow road to debuting regulated sports betting appears to have a launch date: The start of the 2021 NFL season.
In February 2020, policymakers in the Pacific Northwest state signed off on sports betting at tribal casinos, putting the state in the “legal” column. However, it’s yet to join the “live” category, even as several other states approved and started accepting regulated sports wagers over that span.
At issue is the treatment of online betting, which Washington deems a felony. The provisional pact between the Tulalip Tribes and the Washington State Gambling Commission (WSGC) provides for mobile betting inside tribal casinos. There is some wiggle room to perhaps allow for betting via smartphones at buildings near those gaming venues, including hotels and convention centers.
This is the first time where we’ve really ever talked about any form of online gambling,” said Brian Considine, the state gambling commission’s legal and legislative manager, in an interview with the Seattle Times.
Data confirms it would behoove the state to permit broader mobile betting. Currently, 80 percent of legal sports wagers are placed online in the US. That’s poised to soar as more states join the fold. Some of the top sports wagering states in the US, such as New Jersey and Pennsylvania, have vibrant online markets. States that don’t have true mobile betting or only allow it within certain buildings, such as Arkansas and Mississippi, lag others in terms of handle and revenue.
Expect Mobile Expansion Down the Road
Industry observers with knowledge of the Washington State market say the talks between the Tulalip Tribes and the WSGC could serve as a template for future negotiations between the state and other tribal gaming entities.
The state is home to roughly 30 Native American casinos operated by 22 tribes. At least 14 are expressing interest in offering sports wagering.
It’s expected the talks will advance quickly so tribes can ready sports betting prior to the start of the 2021 NFL season in September. Citing changing attitudes toward regulated gaming in Washington, some politicians quoted by the Seattle Times believe it’s a matter of time before mobile gaming is available on a statewide basis.
It’s not clear what form mobile betting will take in Washington State or whether tribes will partner with established commercial operators to bring that effort to life.
Others Want in on the Action
As it stands today, only tribal operators can offer sports betting in Washington State — something that’s drawn the ire of competitors.
Earlier this year, Maverick Gaming, which runs 19 card rooms in the state, pushed SB 5212 — legislation that would broaden sports betting beyond Washington’s tribal casinos.
“There is room for all licensed, regulated gaming operations to be successful, both in the expansive casino resort destinations operated by several tribal nations, and within the more modest neighborhood setting of a commercial cardroom,” said Maverick.
Thus far, calls to expand sports wagering in Washington beyond tribal entities are being resisted by many policymakers.
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