Washington mulls whether to legalize sports gambling

SEATTLE - The U.S. Supreme Court has cleared the way for states to legalize sports betting.

A decision Monday struck down a 1992 law prohibiting most states from allowing gambling on sports. The court ruled that the law violated the state’s rights to control their own policies. Five states closely watching the decision already have laws on the books to allow sports betting in the coming weeks: Mississippi, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and West Virginia.

Delaware may also move quickly to expand the limited legal gambling it has already.

Here in Washington, the state’s gaming commission said  60 percent of the legislature would be have to vote in favor of making it legal.

Some who have a vested interest want to get the ball rolling now.

“I don't think anyone was surprised at the ruling,” said former Washington Attorney General Rob McKenna.

McKenna, who's law firm represents some fantasy sports companies and some professionals sports leagues, said our state hasn't been too keen on expanding gambling in the past.

“The voters in this state turned down a measure several years ago that would've expanded casino gambling off reservation sites. So this state hasn't had a big appetite for expanding gambling,” he said.

But the ruling could change minds in Washington. In order for that to happen though, several things need to change, according to McKenna.

Both the state and tribal casinos would need to re-examine gaming compacts and agreements.

“Remember, we're the only state in the country where the casinos owned by the tribes don't share any of the revenue with the state,” McKenna said.  “Our compacts with the tribes don't allow for that. And unless that were to change, we wouldn't see any revenues to state government from sports betting either.”

Snoqualmie Casino sees the opening of sports betting as a win-win.

“If we regulated it, thus protecting the consumer from illicit activities, we can also tax it. And when I say tax it, that's in the way of compact fees with tribal casinos in the State of Washington,” said Brian Decorah, President and Chief Executive Officer of Snoqualmie Casino.

Decorah said he plans on talking with the tribal council as early as Tuesday to start generating interest in the idea of sports gambling. Decorah said another positive for legalizing sports gambling, is protecting the consumer.

“There is about $150 billion dollars a year in which bets are illegally made on sports betting,” Decorah said. “From my perspective as an operator, I think it’s best for the residents of the state of Washington to have it legalized to protect the consumer.”

From the Washington State Gambling Commision’s viewpoint, there is still plenty of work to do.

“Sports gambling is still illegal in Washington  and in order to change that, it would require a vote of the state legislature and they would have a 60-percent majority vote in order to do that,” said spokesperson Heather Songer.

One of the Gambling Commission’s duties is to provide the Legislature with gambling regulatory information, which includes sports betting. In a statement, they said they are "currently reviewing the Supreme Court’s decision to determine its full impact on Washington State’s authority to enact its own sports gambling laws."

“This decision doesn't mean that we'll be able to bet on the Mariners tomorrow," Songer said. "There are a few states nationwide who have a better framework set up and ready to go, but in Washington, were just not there yet."

A spokesperson for Governor Jay Inslee also said that their decision will depend on the recommendations by the commission.

“We hope that the legislature would look to the commission to provide its expertise about a regulatory structure for sports betting. And like all gambling in our state, it’s the governor’s responsibility, through the commission, to protect the public by ensuring that gambling is legal and honest,” said spokesperson Tara Lee.