The Seattle Times reported that the recent ruling by the federal court has dealt a blow to those who were hoping to expand sports gambling throughout Washington state.
The Court Cited Sovereign Immunity as One of the Main Reasons for Its Decision
Maverick Gaming, which owns and operates a number of card rooms throughout Washington, filed a lawsuit in January 2022 accusing state and federal officials of providing exclusive rights for sports betting and other types of gambling to Native American tribes, which is viewed as discriminatory by the company.
Maverick Gaming asked the district court to invalidate the state’s 2020 sports gambling law and put any such wagering on hold until new legislative efforts could expand it beyond tribal entities to other facilities. However, the court ruled that the lawsuit posed a major risk to the interests of Indian tribes that had signed legal compacts on gambling with the state.
One of the tribes, Shoalwater Bay, had intervened in the case, claiming that its gambling activities would be unduly harmed if the lawsuit prevailed. The tribe also asserted that it enjoys sovereign immunity from being joined to such litigation, a claim which the court agreed with.
According to the ruling, proceeding with the revocation of the tribe’s gambling privileges would put at risk not only the tribe’s income and agreements but also the employment and livelihoods of both tribal and non-tribal individuals and enterprises.
While the court acknowledged that there was no other judicial forum in which Maverick could seek to overturn the sports gambling law, legal precedent almost always favors dismissal when a tribe cannot be joined to a case due to its assertion of sovereign immunity.
Attorney General Hails Court Ruling Upholding Tribal Sports Betting Rights
Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson welcomed the ruling as a triumph of great importance for the autonomy of the tribes at a time when the state’s tribes rely on gambling revenue to fund important social programs.
The Washington Indian Gaming Association advocated for the advantages of tribal gambling, asserting that profits from gambling in tribal casinos provide essential community self-governance programs like housing, medical care, and education.
The Executive Director of the association, Rebecca George, celebrated the decision as a crucial legal win and a firm affirmation of the cooperative and effective partnership that Washington’s tribes have formed with state and federal authorities to establish a secure, restricted, and well-regulated gaming system in Washington State.
Washington has long had some of the nation’s toughest anti-gambling laws, but the state’s decision to pass HB 2638 in March 2020 and grant even tribes-only sports gambling was seen as a major change. Such betting is limited to casino grounds only, including any mobile wagering, and a digital geofence security component restricts mobile sports wagering to tribal casino grounds.