Supporters say expanded sports betting in Washington would add jobs

By NICHOLAS K. GERANIOS (Associated Press)
SPOKANE, Wash. Feb. 4, 2021 11:51 p.m.

Supporters of a bill to expand sports gambling in Washington state beyond Indian casinos and into privately-owned card rooms across the state said Thursday the measure would increase job and tax revenues.

But opponents say such an expansion would take money from tribes who use the casino revenues to fund their operations and social programs.


“This is our tax base," said Rebecca George, director of the Washington Indian Gaming Association. “It's irresponsible for the Legislature to allow sports betting to the benefit of out-of-state people."

No action was taken after Thursday's hearing by the Senate Labor, Commerce & Tribal Affairs Committee.

The Senate bill seeks to expand sports betting to include the state’s licensed card rooms and horse race tracks and is once again being pushed by Nevada-based Maverick Gaming.

A similar proposal by Maverick failed last year, but supporters say the new effort has bipartisan support and could provide revenues to help the state’s economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Last session, lawmakers approved sports gambling for Native American tribes, but that has yet to take effect as government compacts are still being negotiated. Lawmakers at the same time rebuffed a bill seeking to open sports gambling to non-tribal competition.

“This is about fairness," said Sen. Curtis King, R-Yakima, a sponsor of the bill. “We need to share the wealth. We need to take care of the state of Washington as well.”

Eric Persson, the owner of Maverick Gaming, said the bill would allow his company to add good-paying jobs, while providing an estimated $50 million a year in tax revenues to state and local governments.

The $50 million was questioned by Sen. Derek Stanford, D-Bothell, who said it would require a massive volume in sports gambling to provide that much tax revenue.


“That does not seem possible to me," Stanford said, estimating the state is more likely to see $4 million or less per year in such revenues.

Several employees of Maverick Gaming testified that the company's 2,000 employees in the state mostly have family-wage jobs with benefits. Persson said the bill would allow him to hire some 200 additional employees.

But George urged the lawmakers to again reject the proposal.

“They are here to advance the bottom line of a Nevada company," George said.

Maverick Gaming operates 19 card rooms in Washington.

Senate Bill 5212 is co-sponsored by King and Democratic floor leader Sen. Marko Liias of Lynnwood. It would apply only to existing card rooms and racetracks. It allows for online sports gambling, but only within the limits of the gaming venues.

For decades, tribal casinos have operated most of the legalized gambling in Washington. The state allows limited gambling outside tribal facilities in “card room” casinos, but only card games such as blackjack and some poker are allowed.

The pressure to legalize sports gambling has grown nationwide since the U.S. Supreme Court in 2018 struck down a federal law that had banned it everywhere but Las Vegas and a handful of other jurisdictions.

Under the bill:

—Only existing licensed cardrooms and racetracks would be eligible for a sports betting license

—Each facility must have its own license and would be charged a $100,000 licensing fee.

—A state-level 10% tax would be imposed on the operators on all gross revenues from sports wagers. This tax would be in addition to the taxes levied at the local level.

The bill would not allow any betting on college sports events that take place in Washington state or that involve a Washington state team. Betting on electronic sports, high school sports, and competitive video games would be prohibited.