A federal court on Tuesday quashed a bid to strike down a Washington state law permitting legalized sports betting only in tribal casinos. The ruling, which hinged largely upon the tribes’ sovereign immunity, is a blow to those wishing to see sports wagering expanded throughout the Evergreen State.
The lawsuit had been filed in US District Court in January 2022 by Kirkland-based Maverick Gaming, which owns and operates 22 card rooms throughout Washington. The company accused state and federal officials of granting a “discriminatory tribal gaming monopoly” over sports betting and other gambling such as roulette and craps.
Maverick had asked the court to invalidate the state’s 2020 sports gambling law – which went into effect in September 2021 – and to indefinitely put wagering on hold pending new legislative efforts to expand it beyond tribal entities to include card rooms and other facilities. However, Chief Judge David Estudillo of the US District Court for the Western District of Washington ruled Tuesday that the lawsuit posed “a substantial risk” to the “sovereign interests” of tribes.
The Shoalwater Bay tribe had intervened in August claiming its gaming operations would be unduly harmed if the lawsuit prevailed, making it a “required party” to the case. The tribe also asserted that it enjoys “sovereign immunity” from being joined to such litigation and that the case therefore cannot proceed.
According to Seattle Times, Estudillo in Tuesday’s ruling agreed, stating the tribe could not be feasibly joined to the litigation to defend its interests and that moving ahead and revoking its gambling rights “threatens not only tribal revenue and contracts, but also tribal and non-tribal employment and other businesses.”
Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson, one of the named defendants in the lawsuit, called the ruling “a significant victory for tribal sovereignty” at a time the state’s tribes rely on gambling revenue to fund social programs. The sentiment was echoed by the Washington Indian Gaming Association which deemed the ruling “an important legal victory as Maverick’s lawsuit implied “a direct attack on the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.”
For his part, Maverick CEO Eric Persson issued a statement Tuesday saying he will appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. In a previous statement last month, the executive had said “Maverick Gaming will one day offer sports betting” at its properties in the state, “either following a ruling by the Supreme Court of the United States or an inclusive policy discussion by the state legislature that is founded in facts.”