OLYMPIA — Opening day for sports betting in Washington tribal casinos edged closer Thursday when state regulators approved critical agreements with 15 tribes, including the Tulalip Tribes and the Stillaguamish.
Without debate, the Washington State Gambling Commission backed amendments to each of the tribes’ gambling compacts, which spell out how wagering can be conducted in casinos as well as in adjacent hotels, conference centers and entertainment venues.
Those agreements still need approval from the governor and federal authorities, but odds are you will be able to place bets on most college and professional sporting events before the Seattle Seahawks begin the NFL regular season in September.
“The Commission’s action is a big win, not just for tribal communities but for all Washington state residents,” Rebecca George, executive director of the Washington Indian Gaming Association, said in a statement.
“By fitting sports betting into the existing — and proven — tribal gaming system, the state has ensured that sports betting revenues will stay in Washington and will go towards uplifting historically marginalized communities, while creating local jobs, boosting the state economy and funding critical services for those in need,” George said.
Washington passed a sports wagering law in 2020. It allows wagering on professional, collegiate, international and Olympic sports, as well as e-sports. It bars bets on in-state college teams, minor league sports and high school or youth sports.
Under the proposed agreements, bets will be allowed in a sports book environment — similar to what one might see in a Las Vegas casino — as well as at kiosks on a gaming floor. Also, gamblers will be able to set up accounts so they can place bets from a mobile device.
The device would allow wagers elsewhere on the “premises” of casino properties. That could extend wagering options into hotels, conference rooms and entertainment spaces attached to a casino. But wagers would not be allowed on golf courses and in convenience stores that are not directly attached to a casino.
The proposed compact amendments must now be signed by Gov. Jay Inslee and the leader of each tribe. After that, they go to the secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior.
A compact amendment is not final, and sports wagering cannot begin until it is published by the agency in the Federal Register. The federal agency has 45 days to act. If no action is taken, a compact amendment is considered approved and published on the 46th day.
The Tulalip Tribes reached agreement with the state gambling agency in April to allow sports-betting facilities at the Tulalip Resort Casino and Quil Ceda Creek Casino. It was the first of the proposed compact amendments to be completed.
The Suquamish Tribe, which operates the Clearwater Casino in Kitsap County, was the second to secure an accord. Its provisions served as a template for pacts with most of the other tribes.
While sports betting is a growing enterprise around the nation, tribal leaders told commissioners that it is viewed as an additional game and not a major expansion of gambling.
A “small revenue stream (is) anticipated, but it all adds to benefit the tribe and local community,” said Shawn Yanity, chairman of the Stillaguamish Tribe, owners of the Angel of the Winds casino.
Glen Gobin, vice chairman of the Tulalip Tribes, told commissioners that through the years gaming revenue has yielded “substantial economic gains for tribes and the state of Washington.” Collectively, tribal businesses are the seventh-largest employer in the state, he said.
Sports betting will create additional jobs, generate added revenue and enhance the experience of customers, Gobin said.
Regulation poses a new challenge, but tribes are confident they can keep out criminal elements.
“We have regulated this industry very well,” Gobin told commissioners.
Some commissioners expressed concern that the ease of placing wagers outside traditional gaming areas — such as hotel rooms, potentially — could abet those with a gambling addiction.
“It is not in our best interests to take bets from someone who has a gambling problem,” Gobin said.
At Thursday’s hearing, tribal representatives tribes addressed commissioners either in the virtual meeting or in writing. Almost to a person they praised the commission’s staff for working collaboratively to craft sturdy sideboards to the new undertaking.
“Washington’s deliberate and cautious entry into the field not only protects the citizens of the state and provides a relief valve for betting in the illicit market, but also continues Washington’s policy of limited gaming with strong oversight,” wrote Bill Sterud, chairman of the Puyallup Tribe of Indians.
Also Thursday, commissioners set a July 28 date to enact a number of new or revised rules to regulate sports betting. If action is taken on that date, the rule changes will go into effect around Aug. 30, two weeks before the Seahawks season opener Sept. 12.
The 15 federally recognized tribes whose compact amendments were approved Thursday by the commission are the Tulalips, Stillaguamish, Suquamish, Snoqualmie, Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation, Cowlitz, Jamestown S’Klallam, Kalispel, Lummi, Muckleshoot, Puyallup, Shoalwater Bay, Spokane, Squaxin, and Swinomish.
Reporter Jerry Cornfield: firstname.lastname@example.org; @dospueblos