Gambling Commission OKs sports betting at tribal casinos

The proposal involves 15 tribes, including the Tulalips and Stillaguamish, and now goes to the governor.

By Nicholas K. Geranios / Associated Press

Sports betting in Washington tribal casinos moved a step closer Thursday as state regulators approved agreements with 15 Native American tribes, including the Tulalips and the Stillaguamish.

The Washington State Gambling Commission approved amendments to gambling compacts for 15 tribes that are a major step to allowing them to offer sports betting at their casinos.

Commissioners voted 7-0, with two excused, on the requests from all 15 tribes to approve the amendments and send them to Gov. Jay Inslee for his approval.

This was the next step in a complicated process of allowing sports betting, following approval last year by the state Legislature.

“We have 15 sports wagering amendments going to the governor’s office,” commission chair Bud Sizemore said after the vote.

If the governor approves, the issue will be sent to the federal government for approval.

Members of numerous tribes on Thursday extolled the financial benefits of gambling and said sports betting would expand revenues that are used to support a wide variety of social programs and other operations by once-impoverished tribes.

“I ask respectfully the commission to pass this forward,” said Stanford Lee, chief executive officer of the Snoqualmie Casino.

The Tulalip Tribes told the commission that tribes are collectively the seventh-largest employer in the state, with non-Indians making up 70% of the workforce. They said sports betting will create even more jobs for Washingtonians.

While casinos have provided an economic boom for tribes, there is still much work to be done, said Jaison Elkins, chairman of the Muckleshoot Tribe.

“The effects of poverty, neglect and disease are not easily overcome,” Elkins said. “We use every dollar from gaming.”

Shoalwater Bay tribal chair Charlene Nelson said the tribe needs money to continue moving tribal members off flood-prone areas to higher ground.

Carol Evans, chair of the Spokane Tribe, said additional money will help the tribe preserve its traditional language.

“Gaming is good,” Evans said.

People testified that tribes have a three-decade record of successfully offering gambling in a safe environment, with the funds going not to private investors but to government programs. The Legislature twice has rejected efforts by the owners of private card rooms in the state to offer sports betting.

Tribes whose request to allow sports betting was forwarded to the governor were the Tulalips, Suquamish, Kalispel, Snoqualmie, Colville, Cowlitz, Jamestown S’Kallam, Lummi, Muckleshoot, Puyallup, Shoalwater Bay, Spokane, Squaxin Island, Stillaguamish and Swinomish tribes.

Sports betting at tribal casinos became an option after a 2018 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court that struck down a 1992 federal law that banned commercial sports betting in most states. Following that decision, the Washington Legislature last year passed House Bill 2638 to allow sports gambling at tribal casinos.

In April, Sizemore said he was hopeful sports wagering could begin in Washington before the NFL regular season starts.

The bill passed by the Legislature would allow gambling on major league professional sports, the Olympic Games and other international events. There would also be betting on college sports, with the exception of no betting on games involving in-state schools. There will be no online or mobile gaming options outside the walls of tribal casinos.

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