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US – Washington Senate Committee hears bill allowing sports betting in card rooms

By - 8 February 2021

The Senate Committee on Labor, Commerce & Tribal Affairs has held a public hearing regarding SB 5212, a bipartisan proposal to create a regulated, legal, and taxed marketplace for sports betting in Washington.

It is being pushed by Nevada-based Maverick Gaming who wants a level playing field with sports betting outside of Washington state tribal casinos through Senate Bill 5212.

The legislation has bipartisan support and is sponsored by State Senators Curtis King and Marko Liias (Majority Floor Leader). Since the legislation was introduced, it has also been endorsed by the Washington State Labor Council, local mayors and Chambers of Commerce who advocate that tax revenues generated by sports betting will help bolster critical public services during and after the pandemic, while also stabilizing and creating family wage jobs across the state.

As of November 2020, 25 states and D.C. have legalized sports betting and are poised to realize millions in revenue as a result. Revenues from local gambling taxes to local jurisdictions in Washington are anticipated to increase by at least 35% with the passage of this bill. In Washington, Maverick Gaming already contributes approximately $13 million annually to the local communities where it operates. There is room for all licensed, regulated gaming operations to be successful, both in the expansive casino resort destinations operated by several tribal nations and within the more modest neighborhood setting of a commercial cardroom.

Maverick Gaming, which owns 19 neighbourhood card rooms in Washington, is proud to be the largest private-sector employer of Teamsters Local 117.

Local leaders and organisations supporting SB 5212 include: Lakewood Chamber of Commerce, Seattle Southside Chamber of Commerce, Burien Mayor Jimmy Matta, Kirkland Mayor Penny Sweet and Tukwila Mayor Allan Ekberg.

On February 2, a bipartisan group of State Representatives announced their support for SB 5212 in a letter to the Senate Labor, Commerce & Tribal Affairs Committee. The letter was signed by Representatives Lovick, Boehnke, Springer, Hoff, Walen and Vick.

“The history of regulating and taxing gambling in our state is appropriately cautious. Washington has successfully managed a legal gambling system that is a source of tax revenue for public services, and includes efforts to combat problem gambling,” said Maverick Gaming CEO and co-founder Eric Persson. “Commercial cardrooms have been operating in this system since 1997. SB 5212 will create a taxed and regulated marketplace for sports betting that fits our state’s measured approach by restricting sports betting to on-premise only, and would limit commercial sports licenses to only the currently licensed operators, thus curtailing future expansion. SB 5212 will also ensure no commercial business has a sports betting license before negotiations for tribal compacts are complete. I thank the Senate Committee for hosting a public hearing on this legislation and on behalf of our 2,000 teammates, I urge them to advance this proposal.”

Only existing licensed cardrooms and racetracks would be eligible for a sports betting license. Each license (each facility must have its own license) would be charged a $100,000 licensing fee to fully cover the cost of a robust regulatory system focused on public safety and integrity. A state-level 10 per cent tax would be imposed on the operators on all gross revenues from sports wagers. This tax would be in addition to the taxes already levied at the local level.

SB 5212 does not allow betting on collegiate sports events that take place in Washington State or that involve a Washington state team and take place outside of the state or betting on electronic sports, high school sports, and competitive video games. Any change or impact that would threaten tribal sports betting, and licenses for commercial cardrooms would not be granted before the first tribal compact for sports betting is complete.

The 2020 Legislature first legalized sports betting in Washington by authorizing a system exclusively available to tribal-owned casinos, despite broad public and editorial support for an inclusive system that would create new local and state revenue for all Washington communities by including private sector cardrooms. Tribes pursuing the ability to offer sports betting are working to finalize gaming compacts and once complete, will be able to offer sports books, likely during 2021.

A new sports betting bill for Washington was presented to the Senate Labor, Commerce & Tribal Affairs Committee on Thursday that would legalise commercial sportsbooks in the state.

In the 2020 session, Tribal sports wagering was made legal much to the opposition of commercial sportsbook operators and that opposition has spilled over into the 2021 session with the introduction of this bill.

Senate Bill 5212 is being backed by Maverick Gaming, the Nevada-based company that runs many of the commercial gaming venues in the state of Washington.

Senate Bill 5212
WA SB 5212 had its first official reading in the Committee after having its introduction in January. No votes on the bill were taken after the hearing.

The proposal could be read two more times on the same floor for discussions before a decision by way of vote will need to be made to either move it forward to the next Committee or have it stall out.

Maverick said in 2020 that they would fight to enter the legal sports betting market if it was not made into an all-inclusive industry in Washington. They’ve made good on their word with this proposal.

If legalized, Senate Bill 5212 could bring much more revenue from sports betting to the Evergreen State than that of a strictly Tribal gaming market. The company has also promised the addition of at least 200 more jobs should their businesses expand into offering sports wagering at their locations.

“This is about fairness,” said Senator Curtis King, (R-Yakima), a sponsor of the bill. “We need to share the wealth. We need to take care of the state of Washington as well.”

The Nevada company claims that allowing their 19 card rooms in the state could produce at least $50 million with sports betting revenue for the state. Lawmakers believe that figure is wildly exaggerated, not believing that more than $4 million a year could be made with legalizing WA SB 5212. This is what was discussed on Thursday.

Each commercial operator would be charged a fee of $100,000 for a license with a 10% tax rate on all GGR. Already licensed cardrooms and horse racing tracks would be the only locations eligible in the state to enter the sports wagering industry under this bill. No Washington college sporting events would be open for wagers nor would high school, esports, or competitive video game tournaments be eligible for bets.

The Opposition
Opposition is already being heard by the Tribes in Washington. Their legal sports betting market has not yet gone live as the Evergreen State is still negotiating Tribal Gaming Compacts with various Tribes. Once all terms have been agreed upon across the board, these sportsbooks will be launched. Until then, there was much to be said about commercial sports wagering businesses trying to enter the market by the Tribes on Thursday.

“This is our tax base,” said Rebecca George, director of the Washington Indian Gaming Association. “It’s irresponsible for the Legislature to allow sports betting to the benefit of out-of-state people.”

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