Washington tribes have shared a statement praising a federal court ruling siding with the Shoalwater Bay Tribe in dismissing Maverick Gaming’s lawsuit challenging tribal exclusivity in sports betting and other gambling. The court’s decision was labeled “an important legal victory" by Rebecca George, Executive Director of the Washington Indian Gaming Association.
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.
On Tuesday, United States District Judge David Estudillo dismissed Maverick’s lawsuit, which sought to invalidate Washington State’s tribal gaming compacts and to allow sports betting and other gambling expansions at card rooms. 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.
In September, the Shoalwater Bay Tribe – the same tribe of which Maverick Gaming CEO Eric Persson is a citizen – filed a motion to intervene in order to seek dismissal of Maverick's lawsuit against federal and state agencies and officials. The Shoalwater Bay Tribe argued that even though they were not named in the suit due to their sovereign immunity, "Washington Tribes are the true target of the suit." Judge Estudillo agreed and dismissed the suit in its entirety.
Maverick Gaming CEO Eric Persson
"The court finds that Shoalwater has not waived its sovereign immunity and cannot be joined to this action... Absent an express waiver by Congress or a clear and unequivocal waiver by the tribe, tribes retain sovereign immunity from suit," the judge wrote on Tuesday’s ruling. Judge Estudillo of the US District Court for the Western District of Washington further said in his ruling that the lawsuit posed “a substantial risk” to the “sovereign interests” of tribes.
"The ruling today is a complete vindication of our assertion that Maverick Gaming has been attempting to undermine the sovereign rights of Indian tribes not just here in Washington State, but nationally as well. We appreciate that Judge Estudillo understood that and has now dismissed the case," said Charlene Nelson, Chair of the Shoalwater Bay Tribe.
"As we said at the time of our legal filing, it pained us to have to legally oppose a member of our tribe, but Maverick's case, if successful, would have irreparably harmed historically marginalized tribal communities, and would have run counter to the will of the legislature and the general public," Nelson added.
For her part, Rebecca George, Executive Director of the Washington Indian Gaming Association, said the ruling was “an important legal victory” for the tribes. Non-profit Indian gaming trade group Washington Indian Gaming Association represents federally recognized tribes in the state of Washington and their gaming endeavors.
"Maverick's lawsuit was a direct attack on the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA), which over the last three decades has been a pathway for tribes to regain their self-reliance by generating revenue to lift tribal communities out of poverty and despair,” she stated.
However, the battle doesn’t seem to be over. Following Tuesday’s ruling, Maverick’s Eric Persson issued a statement signaling he intends to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. In a 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.”