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Dawn of legal sports betting in Washington state in deal with Tulalip tribe

The Tulalip Casino west of Marysville is now the odds on favorite to open the first legal sportsbook in Washington after the Tulalip tribe and state Gambling Commission reached a tentative agreement to launch sports betting.
Derek Wang
NW News Network
The Tulalip Casino west of Marysville is now the odds on favorite to open the first legal sportsbook in Washington after the Tulalip tribe and state Gambling Commission reached a tentative agreement to launch sports betting.

Nearly a year after the Washington Legislature voted to legalize sports betting, terms have been agreed for the first sportsbook to open. It will be inside one of the two Tulalip tribal casinos alongside Interstate 5 north of Everett.

The Washington State Gambling Commission and the Tulalip Tribes announced a tentative agreement Friday to usher in legal sports betting to a limited degree. The agreement likely augurs similar arrangements being reached for other tribal casinos across Washington. The state legislature gave tribes exclusivity for this form of gambling.

"There is still a lot of work before the first regulated sportsbook opens in our state," said Gambling Commission Chair Bud Sizemore in a prepared statement. "I'm hopeful sports wagering can launch before the NFL regular season begins."

The menu of allowed sports to bet upon include top level professional leagues, the Olympic Games and other international events, college athletics with the notable exception of no betting on games involving in-state schools, plus competitive video gaming (aka eSports). Unlike neighboring Oregon, there will be no online or mobile gaming options outside the walls of the authorized tribal casino resorts.

Oregon's Lottery has operated an online sportsbook called Scoreboard since late 2019. Three tribal casinos on or near the Oregon Coast offer on-premises sports betting, which may be the closest corollary to what is coming to Washington state.

Idaho lawmakers have shown no interest in legalizing any sports betting since the U.S. Supreme Court cracked open the door to it in 2018.

The 2021 Washington Legislature turned aside a request from a major operator of private card rooms to expand the venues where sports betting could be offered. Maverick Gaming was the chief backer of a bill to allow non-tribal card rooms and horse racing tracks to join the sports betting action. Maverick owns 19 neighborhood card rooms across Washington, sometimes referred to as mini-casinos.

Tribes strongly opposed the proposal, reasoning that their de facto monopoly in the state aligns with public wishes to limit the availability of gambling in Washington. Reserving the sports gaming revenue for tribal governments they added, would also ensure it pays off in spending on housing, health care, natural resources and education in their communities. Democratic legislative leaders who run the tables in Olympia -- and tend to be sympathetic to the tribes -- bottled up the proposed sports betting expansion in committee this winter.

"The revenue sports wagering provides -- like all tribal gaming revenue -- stays in Washington, creating jobs and increasing charitable contributions that benefit communities throughout the state," said Tulalip Chairwoman Teri Goban in a press release that celebrated the tentative agreement with the state.

The 35 pages of regulations, limits and integrity controls announced Friday must go through a state and federal approval process before the first legal sports wager can be laid in Washington state. Committees of the state legislature, followed by the Gambling Commission, will hold hearings and take public comment later this spring. Then the governor and tribal chair have to sign off before the agreement finally goes to the U.S. Interior Department for consideration.

At least four other tribes are known to be in advanced negotiations with the state Gambling Commission to open their own sports wagering operations. They are the Kalispel, Suquamish, Snoqualmie and Muckleshoot tribes. The executive director of the Washington Indian Gaming Association said she believes the other tribes are close to striking similar agreements to the "milestone" Tulalip agreement.

"I believe both sides are eager to set up a safe system and are working diligently to get it done," Rebecca George said in an interview Friday.

George said she expects bettors will encounter a variety of setups by the time all of the interested casinos launch their sports wagering operations. She said some places may support "sports bar type" environments with lots of TVs and lounge tables while others may keep things basic with just electronic kiosks or teller windows.

National sports betting brands such as DraftKings, FanDuel and William Hill -- whose advertising is unavoidable on TV sports broadcasts these days -- appear interested in competing for contracts to operate the tribal casino sportsbooks, as evidenced in public comments to the state Gambling Commission.

Gambling Commission Legal and Legislative Manager Brian Considine said 13 to 14 Washington tribes in total have registered official expressions of interest with the state to add sports betting to their casino offerings. He said the announcement of the first sports betting agreement with the Tulalips would probably launch a cascade of negotiating rounds with other tribes that were waiting in the wings. They now have a concrete agreement to review and work from.

Copyright 2021 Northwest News Network

Correspondent Tom Banse is an Olympia-based reporter with more than three decades of experience covering Washington and Oregon state government, public policy, business and breaking news stories. Most of his career was spent with public radio's Northwest News Network, but now in semi-retirement his work is appearing on other outlets.
Tom Banse
Tom Banse covers national news, business, science, public policy, Olympic sports and human interest stories from across the Northwest. He reports from well known and out–of–the–way places in the region where important, amusing, touching, or outrageous events are unfolding. Tom's stories can be found online and heard on-air during "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered" on NPR stations in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho.