Washington State Sportsbooks Limited to Tribal Locations

Featured in this article:

  • Washington State sportsbooks coming to at least two tribal casinos.
  • New tribal compacts do not include statewide mobile betting.
  • More tribes hope to reach agreements in time to take bets on the 2021 NFL season.

Soon, there will likely be regulated Washington State sportsbooks. But based on updated tribal compacts, mobile betting will be severely limited. The state struck deals with two different Native American tribes so far, with more potentially coming.

Washington currently has a comprehensive system of tribal gaming, with 29 casinos throughout the Evergreen State. However, 22 different federally recognized tribes operate at least one of the casinos. This makes a Washington State sportsbooks rollout difficult. The government must strike a separate compact agreement with each tribe.

Washington State Sportsbooks Regulated in 2020

Last year, Washington State lawmakers paved the way for regulated sportsbooks. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, all the casinos were closed when the bill passed. Many thought the downtime would provide opportunity for fruitful negotiations. However, nearly fifteen months later, there still are not any retail sportsbooks in Washington State.

Jay Inslee on the campaign trail

Governor Jay Inslee signed the regulated sportsbook bill last year. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

Whether to offer online and mobile betting drew vehement debate. The Native American tribes lobbied to allow wagering throughout the state, from Seattle to Spokane. But gambling opponents teamed up with the companies behind Washington’s prominent card room industry against statewide sportsbook operations.

Tribal Exclusivity at Issue in Washington

The cardrooms argue that regulated Washington State sportsbooks should not be limited to tribal casinos. Different states have taken diverging paths towards tribal exclusivity when regulating sportsbooks.

Florida is similar to Washington. Native American tribes have the exclusive right to offer casino gaming but a robust cardroom system cuts into profitability. This caused the largest Tribe to stop making payments to the state for two years. However, Florida recently renegotiated the Seminole Tribe’s compact to grant total control over new sportsbooks, including statewide mobile betting. This brought the Tribe back into the fold, promising to transfer Florida over $500 million per year.

Meanwhile, Connecticut provided sportsbook licenses to its Native American tribes while specifically not giving them exclusive control. In New York, the story is more complicated. Its new sportsbooks regulation is silent on how tribes will be integrated into the new mobile industry, if at all. Native American tribes may sue to prevent the launch of online betting in New York.

Whereas Florida and Connecticut only have two federally recognized tribes to strike deals with, Washington State has twenty-two. This complicates mobile wagering, as twenty-two different mobile operators would be close to the maximum amount supported by the market. Most likely, smaller tribes would need to partner together, adding a whole new wrinkle to legalization.

What Will Regulated Washington State Sportsbooks Look Like?

Currently, the state has reached agreement on new compacts with only two tribes: the Tulalip and the Suquamish. Each can build a retail sportsbook on their casino floor. However, both will also be allowed to offer online or mobile gaming on land and in buildings adjacent to their casinos. It is unclear if the mobile option will only extend to tribal-run hotels and restaurants, or a larger amount of land.

Tulalip Casino Resort

The Tulalip Casino Resort (and its whale statue!) may soon open a retail sportsbook.

Allowing mobile bets anywhere on tribal land would greatly boost the potential revenue from Washington State sportsbooks. But it does not appear statewide mobile betting is coming anytime soon.

For bettors who trek to one of the new sportsbooks, regulated wagers will include professional and college games. However, no bets will be taken on in-state colleges, like the Washington Huskies or Washington State Cougars. Additionally, Washington will allow betting on amateur events like the Olympics as well as professional eSports tournaments.

The Chair of the Washington State Gambling Commission believes sportsbooks may be operational before the 2021 NFL season. Seahawks fans surely are delighted to hear such optimism. Further, at least another 11 of the 22 Native American tribes have expressed interest in updating their own compacts to include sportsbooks. The Kalispel, Snoqualmie, and Muckleshoot tribes appear to be closest to announcing new agreements.

Regulated Washington State sportsbooks will soon be a reality. But where other states fight to add wide-ranging mobile betting options, Washington’s plan remains limited. Because the renegotiated compacts still need legislative approval, a restricted sportsbook model may be more likely to pass. Still, the state will continue to willingly pass on needed additional revenue from regulated statewide mobile betting.

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