Sports betting in tribal casinos in Washington state is poised to go live in some of the facilities by the NFL season kick-off on September 9th. The anticipated debut comes after the US Department of the Interior (DOI) gave the final green light for nine tribal casinos in the Evergreen State.
This tribal casino sports betting approval journey started in June when the Washington State Gambling Commission okayed state-gaming compact amendments of sixteen of the state’s federally recognized tribes. Later in July, Governor Jay Inslee signed the compacts, which were then forwarded to the DOI for the last round of approval before they can come into effect.
On Wednesday, September 1st, the DIO published nine of the tribal-state compact amendments into the Federal Register, bringing them into effect on that same day, officially legalizing sports betting in the Evergreen State. Mobile wagering will also be allowed within the tribal casinos, but the vendors will be required to deploy geofencing technology to introduce a virtual perimeter that blocks outside access. Outside tribal facilities, mobile wagering, and online gambling are Class C felonies.
The tribal nations whose amended compacts were okayed and published are the Lummi, Stillaguamish, Suquamish, Squaxin, Cowlitz, Spokane, Snoqualmie, Tulalip, and Puyallup tribes. The applications of the seven remaining tribes – Shoalwater Bay, Jamestown S’Klallam, Kalispel, Skokomish, Swinomish, Muckleshoot, and the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation are still pending. Given that Gov Inslee also okayed the compacts of the seven remaining tribes, the amended compacts expect to be added to the Federal Register in the coming days.
Following the approval announcement of nine of the sixteen tribes last week, Rebecca George, the Executive Director of the Washington Indian Gaming Association, said in a news briefing:
“This marks a major milestone in Washington State’s Native American tribes’ efforts to strengthen the self-reliance of our tribal communities. We now expect the availability of safe and regulated sports betting to begin at Tribal casinos across Washington State in the next few months.”
Where Can Washington State Residents Place Legal Sports Bets?
Effectively, sports betting will be available in the coming weeks at the following nine tribal casino venues whose tribes received DOI compact amendment approvals:
- Tulalip Tribes’ Tulalip Resort Casino in Tulalip.
- Suquamish Tribe’s Suquamish Clearwater Casino Resort in Suquamish.
- Stillaguamish Tribe’s Angel of the Winds Casino in Arlington.
- Squaxin Island Tribe’s Little Creek Casino and Resort in Shelton.
- Spokane Tribe’s Spokane Tribe Casino in Airway Heights and/or Chewelah Casino in Chewelah.
- Snoqualmie Indian Tribe’s Snoqualmie Casino in Snoqualmie.
- Puyallup Tribe of Indians’ Emerald Queen Hotel & Casino in Tacoma and/or Fife.
- Lummi Nation’s Silver Reef Casino in Ferndale.
- Cowlitz Tribe’s Ilani Casino Resort in Ridgefield.
In her Wednesday briefing, the Executive Director of the Washington Indian Gaming Association also added that the timing for sports wagering debut would be highly dependent on individual tribal casinos. According to her, the primary objective prior to launch is implementing the needed measures to secure approved vendors and fulfill security, logistical and bureaucratic requirements. She said:
“It’s not a race. 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. 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.”
In an interview before approval of the new compacts, Stanford Le, the CEO and President of the Snoqualmie Casino said that the tribal gaming facility has been preparing to take Washington’s first legal sports bet. At that time, Le also added that the casino was waiting to receive its license before bringing in sportsbook equipment and conducting employee training. Snoqualmie Casino is the closest tribal gaming house to Seattle, the largest city in the Evergreen State.
International Game Technology (IGT), the provider of the Snoqualmie Casino, eventually received its license approval from the Washington State Gambling Commission on Monday, August 30th. The tribal casino has, however, not published when it will launch sports betting, but a ‘sports betting 101’ page and sportsbook blueprint have been on its official website for a while now. Still, industry proponents are projecting a September 9th debut, right in time for the NFL season opener match between defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Dallas Cowboys.
No Revenue Sharing Agreement Between the Tribes and The Evergreen State
Lawmakers in Washington passed its sports betting laws in March 2020 to allow the activity only in tribal casinos. When drawing the tribal sports betting rules, the state legislature ensured that revenue accrued from sports betting would stay within the local economy of the tribal nations and the state. Negotiations and amendments of tribal-state compacts took more than one year, but the approval journey is finally complete after DOI’s green light.
To date, Washington is the only state out of 30 US states with tribal gaming where there’s no revenue-sharing agreement between the tribes and the state. A compact was signed in 2005 by Gov. Christine Gregoire, the then governor allowing the tribes to expand their gaming without any provision to share revenue with the state. At that time, it was projected that Washington would have received an annual revenue of $140 million had there been a revenue-sharing provision.
When the 2020 tribal sports betting state law was drafted in the legislature, an emergency clause was added to the bill – a move which critics said ensured that the bill wasn’t subject to a referendum as there was a chance that voters would overturn the bill. It’s also worth noting that legislators rejected a sports betting expansion measure to include 44 privately owned commercial card rooms in Washington. The state would have netted an estimated annual tax revenue of $50 million had the measure been accepted.
In their defense, tribal gaming supporters argued that the tribal casinos offer jobs to tens of thousands of state residents, most of whom are not members of the tribe. They also added that each year the tribes pay about a billion dollars in wages and benefits and donate millions of dollars in grants to charities and local municipalities.
According to the Washington Indian Gaming Association, tribal casinos offer over 37,000 employment opportunities and yielded a gross state product of over $5.3 billion in 2017. Revenue from sports betting activity alongside other operations in the tribal casinos will support the tribal nations’ self-sufficiency efforts and essential government services, including education, healthcare, housing, community programs, and natural resources.