The state of Washington became the 21st state to legalize sports betting this past week when Governor Jay Inslee signed a new sports betting bill into law. Washington also became the first state in 2020 to legalize sports betting.
How Sports Betting Became Legal in Washington
In the past, the state of Washington has had some of the harshest anti-gambling laws. When the PASPA ruling back in 2018 occurred, many expected Washington to be one of the last wave of states to legalize sports betting. Now just two years after the May 2018 PASPA ruling, the state of Washington has now legalized sports betting.
The bill that legalized sports betting, HB 2638, made its way through legislation rather quickly. The bill’s sponsor, Representative Strom Peterson (D-Edmonds) was hoping to push the bill quickly through the shortened legislative session and his wishes came true.
HB 2638 began to move its way through the legislation with relative ease, passing by fairly solid margins. The bill managed to make its way through to the governor just in time before the end of the Coronavirus-impacted legislative session. The bill passed in the house 84-14 and 34-15 in the Senate. Typically the bill would have gone to a voter referendum in November that would have required a 60 percent majority vote but due to an emergency provision in the bill, it was able to bypass that step.
Governor Jay Inslee signed the bill into law on March 25th, 2020.
What Sports Betting Will Look Like in Washington
While sports betting is now legal in Washington state, there are still plenty of restrictions. First off, the bill only calls for sports betting at the state’s tribal casinos. Sports betting will only be allowed to take place on tribal casino property, there will be no legal state-wide mobile betting in Washington, at least not at this time.
While the sports world is currently in a hiatus thanks to the current Coronavirus pandemic, this may actually be the best time for Washington to legalize sports betting. The state is still months away from launching any actual legal sportsbooks so this current hiatus doesn’t have much of an effect on Washington just yet. The tribes and the state of Washington still have plenty of negotiating in their state compacts before any sportsbooks can be opened. These negotiations could take months before anything is put into place.
Under the new sports betting law, wagers can be placed on both professional and collegiate sporting events. However, like some other states with legal sports betting, wagers on local collegiate events located in the state of Washington will not be permitted. A number of other states with legal sports betting have also restricted betting on collegiate events and collegiate teams located in their respective state.
The lack of legal mobile sports betting in Washington will have some benefit to neighboring state Oregon. Oregon, which is located on the southern border of Washington, has legal mobile sports betting. For Washington residents located in the southern part of the state, it may be more convenient for them to travel across state lines into Oregon to place bets from their mobile devices as opposed to traveling to tribal casinos within Washington to place bets. Some of those in Washington who are already traveling to Oregon to bet may also be less inclined to make the switch to betting in person in their home state.
Any way you look at it, Washington will certainly be losing a percentage of revenue to Oregon and possibly Idaho in the future if Idaho does, in fact, legalize mobile sports betting before Washington does.
As for the tribal sportsbooks in Washington, they are expected to range anywhere from full-fledged sportsbooks and lounges at some casinos to simple betting kiosks at others.
Assuming everything goes smoothly in Washington, residents could be betting on sports sometime this year. A realistic goal at this time would be by the start of the upcoming NFL season. Assuming there will be no delays from the Coronavirus issue, the NFL season will be starting September 10th. While it is possible, it is unlikely that Washington residents will be legally betting on sports in their home state anytime sooner than that. If anything, it is more likely that legal sports betting won’t launch in Washington until early 2021.
Issue With Legal Sports Betting and Washington Tribes
There are currently 29 federally-recognized tribal casinos in the state of Washington. Like we have seen in other states, such as California, the tribes in Washington believed they had the exclusive rights to offer sports betting. Other gambling facilities in the state of Washington did not believe that was the case. Another belief that we have seen in other states with the same issue.
A major part of the reason that Washington tribes are the only ones that are able to offer legal sports betting is due to their heavy lobbying for this particular bill. Had they not have been given the exclusive rights to legal sports betting, they would have used their political clout to shoot down any bill that wouldn’t have given them that legal sports betting monopoly. In the past, Washington tribes have been very outspoken against gambling expansions in the state.
Of course, non-tribal gaming establishments in Washington are not happy with this exact sports betting bill passing. Racetracks, mini-casinos and card rooms were all hoping that sports betting would have been open to all legal gambling establishments in the state. They do not believe that tribes deserve to have a monopoly on sports betting in the state. One particular opponent of the bill, who believes the same, has already threatened legal action.
Maverick Gaming, who have recently purchased 19 of Washington’s 44 non-tribal card rooms, has been one of the biggest advocates of this bill passing. CEO of the Nevada-based Maverick Gaming, Erik Persson, argued earlier in the year at a public hearing that Washington would lose up to $50 million in tax revenue by not allowing sports betting to go beyond tribal casinos. Persson also believed that the only reason the emergency clause was added to the bill was that lawmakers knew that Washington residents would never approve the bill as it was proposed. He has even contacted Governor Inslee directly asking for him to veto the final version of the bill.
Persson has vowed to spend up to $30 million on litigation, campaigning and anything else to block the bill from becoming law. He also believes that this tax-free monopoly to tribal casinos will endanger the jobs of nearly 2,200 employees at Maverick Gaming. So while Washington did pass a bill to make sports betting legal, there are still some hurdles in the way. Persson and other non-tribal gaming establishments in Washington will continue to try and get sports betting expanded in the state, which could lead to even more issues down the road.
Frequently Asked Questions
Yes. Governor Inslee signed HB 2638 into law back on March 25th, 2020. Under the bill, sports betting is legal at tribal casinos located in the state of Washington. Once sportsbooks begin to open at these tribal casinos you will be free to bet legally in Washington.
There is currently no timeline as to when legal sports betting will officially launch in Washington. The state and the tribes still have to negotiate their current compacts. A best-case scenario would be that sportsbooks launch in Washington before the start of the 2020 NFL season on September 10th.
Bettors in Washington can make wagers on professional and collegiate sporting events. However, like a number of other states in the country, Washington residents will not be able to bet on local collegiate teams. The minimum gambling age is 18 or 21 if the establishment sells alcohol.
No. The current sports betting law does not allow for mobile sports betting in Washington. Sports betting is only permitted on tribal lands that have a licensed sportsbook. It is possible that state-wide mobile sports betting could become legal in Washington in the future.
No. Washington is one of the most strict states in the country when it comes to daily fantasy sports. Arrests have been made in the past in Washington over daily fantasy sports. The state of Washington classifies DFS as a game of “chance”, therefore making it illegal.
It’s unknown is FanDuel Sportsbook will attempt to enter the Washington market. There is no legal online sports betting or daily fantasy sports in the state. Therefore, if FanDuel were to enter Washington it would have to be as a partner of a tribal casino to operate their retail sportsbook.
There are currently no legal sportsbooks available in Washington. While sports betting is legal, no sportsbooks have been established yet. Sportsbooks won’t open in the state until after compacts between the state and tribes are negotiated. Once that happens, Washington could see as many as 29 sportsbooks throughout the state.
No. You don’t have to be a resident of Washington in order to place a legal bet at a Washington sportsbook. As long as you are of legal age and are not breaking any other restrictions, you can place a legal sports bet in Washington regardless of where you live.
Yes. As with any other state, Washington residents will be required to pay taxes on their winnings. Sports betting falls under gambling when it comes to taxes and you must pay taxes on gambling winnings to a certain extent. You can find more info at IRS.gov.