Federal lawsuit

Washington: Maverick cardroom operator sues over tribal monopoly on sports betting; WIGA reacts

Emerald Queen Casino, owned by Puyallup Tribe, has recently opened a BetMGM Sportsbook in Washington.
United States
Reading time 2:44 min

The Washington State sports betting market is set up for a court battle after Maverick Gaming, the state’s largest non-tribal gambling operator, went to court Tuesday in an effort to try to overturn the monopoly on sports gaming the Legislature awarded to 29 Native American tribes in the state.

According to Washington State Wire, the lawsuit was filed by attorneys for the gambling business in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. It argues that Washington’s 2019 authorizing sports wagering only at tribal casinos is an “erroneous” application of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA).

The lawsuit argues that IGRA allows tribes to offer any form of gambling that is otherwise offered in the state on an individual tribe’s land. Whilst the law was initially interpreted to allow casino-style games such as blackjack, craps and roulette, in Washington it also allows slot machines: the state operates a lottery, and slot machines are claimed to be designed to operate similarly to a lottery.

Maverick’s lawsuit seeks not only to protest the 2019 law allowing sports betting only on tribal casinos, but to upend the entire tribal monopoly on most forms of gambling. Lawyers for the operator argue that most gaming allowed at tribal casinos isn’t really available to non-tribal parties.

Maverick Gaming owns 19 properties in Washington, including Roman Casino in Seattle.
The federal lawsuit goes as far as accusing Washington state officials of having unlawfully granted tribe-owned casinos a “discriminatory tribal gaming monopoly” over gambling, including sports betting. Maverick had previously unsuccessfully lobbied state lawmakers in recent years to expand sports gaming beyond tribal casinos in recent years.

Sports gambling in Washington was approved in March 2020, allowing it only on tribal casinos. It went into effect in September 2021, on a case-by-case basis. The state entered into amended compacts with tribes: Snoqualmie Casino was the first to launch sports betting in September, followed by the Stillaguamish and Kalispel tribes soon after.

Maverick’s lawsuit accuses U.S. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, Attorney General Bob Ferguson and the Washington State Gambling Commission of “irrationally and impermissibly” discriminating on the basis “of race and ancestry” by wrongfully applying IGRA to prevent competition to tribes, reports Associated Press.

The gambling company, which owns and operates 19 of 44 licensed card rooms in the state, asks for agreements on sports betting to be invalidated and for the market to be put on hold. It is argued that, unlike other states, Washington has not accommodated non-tribal casinos to offer sports gaming.

The Washington Indian Gaming Association (WIGA), an Indian gaming trade association that represents federally recognized tribes in the state, on Tuesday issued a statement in response to the lawsuit, which it claims seeks to “undermine” Washington’s system of tribal gaming.

"Maverick Gaming's newly announced federal lawsuit is a desperate attempt to overturn federal law, the will of the Washington State legislature, state and federal agency decisions, and the clearly expressed sentiments of the general public in Washington State,” said Rebecca George, Executive Director of the Washington Indian Gaming Association (WIGA).

According to the executive, the lawsuit would “severely undermine” the regulated system of limited gaming established in Washington State over three decades, which was “carefully negotiated” in compacts between the state and tribes.

"Those compacts are fully in keeping with the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, as well as with state law, and have been repeatedly vetted at multiple levels of regulatory oversight,” George added. “This dangerous and destructive lawsuit is without merit.”

The WIGA Executive Director further warns that, should the suit be successful, it would cause “irreparable harm” not only to tribal communities, which have been “historically marginalized,” but also to the broader public, described as opposing a massive expansion of gambling in their neighborhoods and communities.

“We will be reviewing their complaint more carefully, but Washington State's tribes stand united in opposing any attempt to undermine the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, tribal compacts, and what the tribes have worked so hard to build," WIGA stated.