NESPELEM - The Colville Business Council unanimously approved a resolution in CBC Special Session Feb. 4 formally opposing a bill in front of the Washington Legislature that would authorize sports gambling in state-licensed cardrooms and racetracks across the state.

The tribal resolution, 2021-50, reads the CBC votes “to strongly oppose Senate Bill 5212 ‘Authorizing sports wagering at cardrooms and racetracks’ and authorize all 14 members of the Colville Business Council to sign in opposition to Senate Bill 5212 at any public hearings called by committees of the Washington State Legislature.”

In 2020, the state passed a bill allowing tribes to request to amend their gaming compacts to include sports wagering in tribal casinos, building off a 2018 Supreme Court case that set precedence for sports betting across the country, and during public testimony on the new bill, Feb. 4, Washington Indian Gaming Association Executive Director Rebecca George noted that bill came only as a careful and limited approach to sports wagering.

“This was done to maintain the integrity and the safety of gaming in Washington and to ensure the benefits go to our state’s residents, not other states or private company investors,” said George. “This proposal threatens to up-end that approach.” 

Sen. Curtis King (R-Yakima), who sponsored the bill alongside Sen. Marko Liias (D-Lynnwood), called the bill contentious but fair while introducing it to the committee.

“Last year, we gave the tribes all of the authority to do sports wagering in their casinos, which brings absolutely no revenue to the State of Washington,” said King. “We have 40-some card rooms in this state that pay licenses to this state. They employ people with good family-wage jobs in most cases and provide excellent benefits to those people as well. That doesn’t mean the tribes don’t do the same... This is about fairness, equity, all of that. The tribes as you know have the rights to the casinos and the vast majority of the gambling that goes on with this state, and they make millions of dollars off of that each year. This doesn’t touch any of that. This is about a new form of gambling, and all I am saying is we need to share the wealth here. We need to support our cardrooms that are scattered all around this state. They need our support.”

“Tribal gaming is government gaming,” said George in her testimony. “It is much different than commercial gaming. Indian gaming, like the state lottery, funds essential services, programs like health care, education, natural resources, basic infrastructure that is desperately needed in our state. Tribal governments have very few options when it comes to raising revenue. This is our tax base. Any impact to our properties would mean a decline in our essential services to Indians and the surrounding, often rural, communities.”

The bill proposes a 10 percent tax on gaming revenue, but Sen. Derek Stanford (D-Bothel) cautioned the bill’s supporters’ about any expected state revenue amounts after noting he had heard news reports that suggested passage of the new bill could bring $50 million to $100 million in tax revenue.

“The fiscal note is reflecting somewhere along the lines of $3 to $4 million to the state,” said Stanford. “I think we should be careful about the expectations we are setting up when talking about this. I don’t think we should be talking about a factor of ten greater. We certainly can’t be counting on that level of revenue at this time when we are talking about difficult budgets.”

Vicki Christopherson, Maverick Gaming, noted currently card rooms across the state pay $27 million in local taxes.

“This bill seeks to allow sports betting into every community in Washington to the benefit of out-of-state interests,” said George. “If passed this legislation would cause real and lasting harm to the tribes and to the state’s economy. It would also undermine the framework that the state and the tribes have worked carefully to develop over the last 30 years.”

During the hearing, committee chair Sen. Karen Keiser (D-Des Moines) noted 783 people signed in without testifying in favor of the bill and 1,040 people signed in in opposition to the bill.

“Here’s the problem: The backers of this bill aren’t here to enhance neighborhood gathering places or to help the state address funding gaps,” said George. “They are here to enhance the bottomline of a Nevada company. Please don’t be taken by their false claims. When a number sounds to be too true to be true, it probably is.”

George noted currently tribes are in the negotiation process with Washington state regarding government-to-government gaming compacts and once those are complete sports betting will be offered in tribal casinos across the state.

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