On Feb. 21, U.S. District Court Judge David Estudillo of Washington, dismissed a federal lawsuit brought forth to disarm the tribal monopoly on sports betting in the state of Washington.
Maverick Gaming LLC vs. United States of America
Eric Persson, CEO of Maverick Gaming and a member of the Shoalwater Bay Tribe, filed a lawsuit in January of 2022, suing the United States Department of Interior and other federal officials for creating a “discriminatory tribal gaming monopoly.” Maverick Gaming runs 18 card rooms in Washington with hopes to expand, however tribal compacts prevent him from doing so.
Shortly after Maverick filed its lawsuit, the Washington Indian Gaming Association (WIGA) released a statement condemning the complaint and “opposing any attempt to undermine the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, tribal compacts, and what the tribes have worked so hard to build.”
Months later in August, Persson’s own tribe, Shoalwater Bay, filed a motion in federal court to strike down its members’ lawsuit. “It pains us to have to legally oppose a member of our own tribe,” said Charlene Nelson, Chair of the Shoalwater Bay Indian Tribe. “But Eric Persson’s lawsuit left us no choice. If successful, this self-serving case would cause irreparable harm to historically marginalized tribal communities and to the general public as well.”
The case’s status came down to Shoalwater Bay more than anything else. Shoalwater is not named as a defendant in the case, however it argued that it is a “required party” for the case under Rule 19 because Maverick’s lawsuit would impact its gaming operations. That being said, joining the litigation would impact its tribal sovereignty so therefore it would not join the case. Therefore, the case could not proceed.
Maverick argued that “Shoalwater’s interest in conducting Class III gaming is not sufficient to make it a required party and that the United States can adequately represent its interests in this litigation.” In this case, the aforementioned “interest” is to defend the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA).
Estudillo ultimately ruled that Shoalwater is a required party in the case.
Estudillo addressed Maverick’s claim in his judgement: “While the federal government has an interest in upholding IGRA and IGRA is intended to promote ‘tribal economic development, self-sufficiency, and strong tribal governments…this does not mean that the federal government and the tribes’ interests are aligned sufficiently such that the federal government can adequately represent the tribes’ interests.”
Estudillo also addressed Shoalwater’s tribal immunity from joining the case despite being a required party. The judgement wrote, “absent an express waiver by Congress or a clear and unequivocal waiver by the tribe, tribes retain sovereign immunity from suit…Shoalwater has expressly indicated that it has not waived its sovereign immunity.”
What’s Next For WA Sports Betting?
Persson has long said that he plans to take this case all the way to the Supreme Court if need be. The road will not be an easy one though – Washington is currently the only state that gives its tribes total exclusivity over the sports betting and casino market, per the very specific IGRA.
“I know that our perspective on sports betting is at odds with those who prefer a monopoly for Tribal casinos, but I respect their right to advocate for their members,” Persson wrote in a brief last month. “Maverick Gaming will one day offer sports betting at its properties in our state, either following a ruling by the United States Supreme Court or an inclusive policy discussion by the state legislature that is founded in facts.”