Federal lawsuit challenges ‘tribal monopoly’ on sports betting

Maverick Gaming wants to invalidate compacts allowing tribes, including the Tulalip and Stillaguamish, to offer sports wagering.

TULALIP — The owner of several card rooms in Snohomish County filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday alleging state officials provided tribal casinos an unlawful monopoly on sports betting.

The lawsuit, filed by Maverick Gaming, a national gaming and entertainment company headquartered in Kirkland, seeks to invalidate gaming compact amendments approved last year, which allow the Stillaguamish, Tulalip, Sauk-Suiattle and 14 other Washington tribes to offer sports betting.

The company’s lawyers contend those amendments — signed by Inslee and endorsed by U.S. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland — violate a federal law intended to bar gaming activity at tribal casinos on Indian lands unless the state permits the same activity by non-tribal entities.

“We support and respect tribal equality and sovereignty,” said Eric Persson, CEO and co-founder of Maverick Gaming. He said the purpose of the lawsuit was to ensure his company’s card rooms enjoy the same opportunities enjoyed by the tribes.

Chairwoman of the Tulalip Tribes Teri Gobin said the lawsuit is just “another frivolous attempt” by Maverick to expand gaming throughout Washington. She said though the tribes aren’t a party to the case, they are reviewing it closely.

A 2020 law legalized sports wagering and restricted it to tribal casinos. Maverick pushed unsuccessfully for a different version that would have permitted sports betting in card rooms. The company operates 19 card rooms in the state, including in Everett, Mill Creek and Mountlake Terrace.

Rebecca George, executive director of the Washington Indian Gaming Association, said in a statement that the lawsuit has the potential to cause irreparable harm to historically marginalized tribal communities and the broader public.

If successful, she said, the litigation “would severely undermine the well regulated and safe system of limited gaming that has been established in Washington state over three decades of carefully negotiated compacts between the State of Washington and Native American tribes.”

The Stillaguamish Tribe’s Angel of the Winds casino began taking wagers on professional and collegiate sporting events in December — the first tribal casino in the county to offer that mode of legal gaming.

The Tulalip Tribes are gearing up to offer sports betting at both of their casinos through a contract with DraftKings.

For both tribes, gaming revenue supports the sustenance of tribal government operations, as well as social services like health care and education.

“There’s a big difference between the gaming done by the tribes” and non-tribal gaming, Gobin said.

All of the tribes’ net gaming revenue “actually stays in Washington,” she said. And it makes up the “millions and millions of dollars” the Tulalip Tribes give back to local law enforcement, emergency services, hospitals, nonprofits and small businesses.

Sports betting could generate $94 million for tribal casinos across the state, according to a Washington State University study.

The lawsuit centers on the 1988 Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, a landmark measure clearing a path for the operation of casinos on lands of federally recognized tribes across the country.

The act created the framework for governing gaming. It requires states and tribes negotiate compacts that are signed by the governor and sent to the U.S. Secretary of the Interior for review and action.

Maverick lawyers argue the act was intended to guarantee parity between tribal and non-tribal gaming. The state’s application creates “tribal monopolies” that insulate tribes from competition that exists in many other states with legal gaming marketplaces, attorney Theodore B. Olson, a partner at Gibson Dunn, said in a company release.

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; jcornfield@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @dospueblos.

Isabella Breda: 425-339-3192; isabella.breda@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @BredaIsabella.

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