A pair of sports betting bills are being rushed through the Washington state legislature, but a gaming company that owns nearly half of the state’s privately owned cardrooms may put a halt on its fast track to become law.
The House assembled Thursday night and passed HB 2638 by an overwhelming 83-14 vote. The bill would allow tribal casinos to offer both online and brick-and-mortar sportsbooks. The bill is passed just three weeks after being formally introduced.
The bill’s sponsor, Democrat Rep. Strom Peterson, attached an emergency amendment to the bill that blocks it from a referendum in November if passed.
Even though both the House bill and its Senate companion, SB 6394, have bipartisan support and seems likely to end up on Gov. Jay Inslee’s desk by spring, a gaming company is likely to challenge these bills in court.
Maverick Gaming LLC bought 19 of the state’s 44 cardrooms and wants lawmakers to allow nontribal casinos to offer sports betting as well.
According to the Seattle Times, the Nevada-based gaming company released a legal opinion Thursday night from a former State Senator and Washington Supreme Court Judge that questioned the emergency amendment.
Judge Philip A. Talmadge said that there is no reason for the emergency clause since there is no direct tax revenue being generated from the tribal casinos’ actions and there was no threat to public safety.
“An emergency clause to this legislation, claiming that either bill is necessary for the immediate preservation of public peace, health, or safety is highly suspect and will only ensure lengthy litigation testing such a legislative assertion,” wrote Talmadge in the opinion.
The support of these bills is a clear shift in the political landscape for gambling in Washington, which has historically been one of the most staunch anti-gambling states in the country. Online gambling of any kind is currently a Class C felony.
That would need to change if the bill is passed in its current form, which could open up the doors for online poker legislation in the near future.
If the bills aren’t passed during this shortened legislative session, Washington would likely have to wait until 2021 before anything gets through the legislature.