Sports betting is now legal in Washington State but an agreement to give the state’s gaming tribes exclusive rights to operate sports betting in the state is being challenged by the Maverick Gaming Company.
The entertainment and gaming company, which has its headquarters in Kirkland Washington, alleges that Washington’s 29 gaming tribes that have Class III gaming compacts with the state have been given a monopoly illegally based on an inappropriate application of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.
Maverick Gaming’s lawsuit was filed earlier this year. They claim that based on this mis-application, roulette, craps and sports and other Vegas casino online real money betting are being held exclusively by the Tribes. The case was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia and is now being moved to the Western District of Washington as per a decision of federal Judge Florence Y. Pan who said that she lacked the authority to resolve the complaint.
Sports Betting in Washington
Sports betting has been legal in Washington State since March 2020. House Bill 2638 legalized sports betting at tribal casinos so bettors can place bets at a physical sportsbook located at one of the state’s tribal casinos or using an app while on the grounds of the casino.
Other online sports betting is not legal in the state. Maverick Gaming, owner and operator of 19 cardrooms in Washington State as well as in Nevada and Colorado opposed the legislation, arguing that the bill’s emergency close would prevent a public referendum on the matter by allowing the legislation to take effect immediately.
Washington tribes were given exclusive rights to operate sports betting at their casinos, conditioned on their agreement to sports wagering amendments to their compacts with the state. Now, Maverick Gaming is challenging that exclusivity, saying that the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) is being applied inappropriately in a way that gives tribes in the state a monopoly over sports betting as well as over craps and roulette.
The Gaming Tribes applauded the judge’s decision to move the case to the Western District Court. The Washington Indian Gaming Association (WIGA), an Indian gaming association that represents Washington’s federally recognized gaming tribes issued a statement saying, “State officials successfully argued that the public interest in Washington State, as well as the private interest of the state defendants, would be most harmed by the lawsuit, and therefore the case should be decided by a court based in their own locale…Maverick Gaming's lawsuit seeks to invalidate all tribal gaming compacts in Washington State and undermine the carefully crafted, limited and successful system of gaming we have developed here over three decades.”
Maverick Gaming CEO and Co-Founder Eric Persson also reacted to the decision. “While we disagree with today’s decision by a D.C. District Court Judge to relocate our litigation to the Western District of Washington, we have always believed that the final decision on this issue will most likely be settled by the United States Supreme Court. We look forward to continuing our litigation in the Western District of Washington and believe that the defendants’ decision to pursue a different venue instead of confronting the merits of our litigation only underscores the strength of our position,” he said. “An inclusive and regulated marketplace for sports betting will generate tax revenue for public services, create great family-wage jobs across our state and reduce the ongoing illicit marketplace that poses a substantial public safety risk with no guardrails to protect against problem gambling.”
The case revolves around the intent of the Indian Regulatory Gaming Act upon which the exclusivity for sports betting that was given to Washington’s Tribal Casinos was based. The IRGA is a federal framework that was established to provide a jurisdictional framework to govern Indian gaming.
The Act was meant to encourage economic development for Indian tribes, protect gaming as a means of generating revenue for these tribes and protect tribal casinos from elements that would attempt to take over the enterprises (organized crime).
Over the years there have been a number of controversies regarding the way that states apply the IRGA. A federal court recently overturned a Florida law that would have legalized sports betting in the state by bypassing the state’s gaming tribes. In Oklahoma, the governor engaged in a months-long stand-off with the state’s gaming tribes after threatening to refuse to renegotiate compacts with the tribes over his demand for higher tax payments.
Tribes in Massachusetts and Connecticut have taken the states’ to court involving their inability to operate casinos because they were not officially recognized as tribes. And in California, the tribes have been fighting to ban card rooms for years.
Parity or Leveling the Playing Field?
Maverick Gaming believes that the intent of the IGRA is to “guarantee parity between Tribal and non-Tribal gaming” but by giving the tribes exclusivity over sports betting, they are illegally excluding Maverick and other non-tribal gaming companies from competition in the gaming marketplace.
The gaming tribes, however, see the exclusivity clause as helping to level the playing field which hasn’t been treating native Americans fairly for hundreds of years. There are currently 29 federally recognized Tribes in the State of Washington, all of which have Class III gaming compacts. Twenty-two of the tribes operate 29 gaming facilities around the state.
Since Bill 2638 was passed one tribe, the Snoqualmie Tribe, has been tentatively approved to operate sports betting on their casino premises. Betting started in September 2021.