Gambling Commission authorizes sports betting in tribal casinos


By Nicholas K. Geranios / Associated Press

Sports betting at Washington’s tribal casinos moved closer on Thursday as state regulators approved deals with 15 Native American tribes, including the Tulalips and Stillaguamish.

The Washington State Gambling Commission has approved changes to gambling agreements for 15 tribes, which is a major step in allowing them to offer sports betting at their casinos.

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

This was the next step in a complicated sports betting authorization process, following approval last year by the state legislature.

“We have 15 sports betting amendments that go to the governor’s office,” commission chairman Bud Sizemore said after the vote.

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

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

“I respectfully request the commission to pass this on,” said Stanford Lee, general manager of Snoqualmie Casino.

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

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

“The effects of poverty, neglect and disease are not easy to overcome,” Elkins said. “We use every dollar in the game.”

Shoalwater Bay Tribe President Charlene Nelson said the tribe needed money to continue moving tribal members from flood-prone areas to higher ground.

Carol Evans, president of the Spokane Tribe, said additional funds would help the tribe preserve their traditional language.

“The game is good,” Evans said.

People have testified that the tribes have a record three decades of offering successful gambling in a safe environment, with funds going not to private investors but to government programs. The legislature has twice rejected efforts by the state’s private card room owners to offer sports betting.

The tribes whose sports betting authorization request 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.

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

In April, Sizemore said he hoped sports betting could start in Washington before the start of the NFL regular season.

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

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