A quickly arranged full Washington state House floor vote on a bill to allow sports gambling in the state's tribal casinos was overwhelmingly approved Thursday night and paved the way for possible passage into law by this spring.
The 83-14 vote on HB-2638 came just two days after a House Appropriations Committee agreed to forward it onward. The bill's sponsor, Rep. Strom Peterson, D-Edmonds, said Tuesday he'd hoped to get a floor vote as early as next week so a similar vote on a companion Senate bill could occur before a March 13 deadline and enable the proposed legislation to reach Gov. Jay Inslee's desk by spring.
Peterson did even better than that, getting the vote to occur within 48 hours along with an emergency amendment that blocks it from being subjected to a statewide referendum. State lawmakers had worried that opposition from Nevada-based Maverick Gaming LLC -- which wanted sports gambling extended beyond tribal casinos to card rooms it controls -- would slow momentum to getting the bill passed before the end of this year's shortened session and delay further proceedings until next January.
"Incredibly proud of the strong 83-14 bipartisan vote," Peterson said. "We have found a good middle path that supports our tribal partners, allows adults to safely access sports betting and protects our youth."
But the emergency amendment preventing a referendum seems destined to be challenged in court.
Maverick Gaming released a legal opinion Thursday night that it had sought from former State Senator and Washington Supreme Court Judge Philip A. Talmadge, who concluded there was no basis in deeming HB-2638 or SB-6394 an "emergency" for the state, namely because it will derive no direct tax revenue from the tribal casino activities. As such, Talmadge added there was no immediate threat to "public peace, health or safety" that warranted such an amendment.
"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," Talmadge wrote.
For now, the legislation would limit any sports gambling within tribal casinos, of which there are 29 operating within the state. Washington has some of the nation's toughest anti-gambling laws and online betting of any kind is a Class C felony.
But HB-2638 does have an online component to it, allowing such betting only within the tribal casino confines.
Maverick had wanted that extended to smaller card-room casinos -- which allow limited gambling in card games such as blackjack played against the "house" and not individuals. Within the past year, Maverick has bought up 19 of the state's 44 card rooms.
But lawmakers favored the more conservative option of the tribal casinos, saying their decades of experience at running gambling establishments would make sports gaming easier to regulate.