- Associated Press - Thursday, January 30, 2020

SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) - A owner of a company that owns 19 private gambling rooms across Washington state on Thursday spoke in support of a bill that would authorize sports betting, including on mobile devices.

But state officials opposed the measure, saying online sports betting would increase gambling addiction.

Eric Persson, owner of Maverick Gaming, said people in Washington are already illegally betting on sports with bookies and off-shore companies. “That is not safe for our consumers,” Persson told the state Senate Labor and Commerce Committee.

The hearing involved a bill that would authorize Indian casinos, private card rooms and horse racing tracks to offer sports betting, both on-site and via mobile devices.

It is competing with other bills that would limit sports betting to Indian casinos only, and only from within those casinos.



None of the bills have been voted on yet.

“Sports gambling is going on in this state right now,” said state Sen. Curtis King, R-Yakima, sponsor of the Senate bill. “I believe it needs to be controlled by the state.”

Sports betting is expanding in the United States following a 2018 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that allowed for it to be legalized in every state. Sports wagers can now be made legally in more than a dozen states, including Oregon.

In Washington state, a battle is being waged between operators of Indian casinos and operators of private card rooms over who will be able to offer sports betting. There is also conflict between those who support online sports betting and those who believe that should not be legalized.

Chris Reykdal, the state school superintendent, told the committee he was strongly opposed to online sports betting because it was highly addictive and would be irresistible to children.

“I oppose any bill that opens gambling to the populace by online means,” Reykdal said.

Some students already access pornography, graphic violence and illegal sports gambling on mobile devices, ignoring warnings they must be 18 to access the material, Reykdal said.

But Persson argued that the state stood to reap tens of millions of dollars a year in tax revenues from online sports gambling.

“Consumers want a safe, regulated process,” Persson said, likening card rooms to the bar in the television show “Cheers.” He said currently there are no protections to prevent children or gambling addicts from making sports bets illegally.

Employees of Maverick Gaming also testified that the company provided lots of family-wage jobs in the state and that sports betting would provide even more.

Several leaders of Indian tribes in the state spoke in opposition to the Senate bill, saying tribal casinos are the best place to add sports betting. They noted gambling revenues support education, health care, care for seniors and other social programs on previously-impoverished reservations.

Yasmin Trudeau, legislative director for state Attorney General Bob Ferguson, said Ferguson strongly opposed the Senate bill or any other big expansion of gambling. Trudeau said the bill would increase gambling addiction while decreasing public health and safety.

King asked if Ferguson was taking any steps to shut down illegal online sports betting now.

“I cannot speak for the attorney general,” Trudeau replied.

David Bean, chairman of the Puyallup Tribe, urged lawmakers to restrict sports betting to tribal casinos, which he contended “provide a safe and highly regulated environment.”

Proponents of limiting sports betting to tribal casinos say that would prevent children from making bets, and would increase state revenues without increasing the gambling footprint in the state.

“Why can’t we do the same things with the same controls in non-tribal card rooms?” King asked.

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