By Carol Evans and Glen D. Nenema
In 2020, the Washington State Legislature legalized sports betting on the premises of tribal casinos. That legislation passed with a bipartisan supermajority. Now, after nearly two years of careful planning and multiple layers of regulatory oversight, sports betting has begun at the Kalispel Tribe’s Northern Quest Casino. And sports betting will soon go live at the Spokane Tribe Casino and at 14 other tribal casinos across our state.
But even before most tribal sports betting has launched, one well-funded nontribal gambling company is pushing a huge expansion of sports betting and other gambling activities at neighborhood card rooms throughout our state. This week they filed a federal lawsuit that seeks to accomplish through the courts what our Legislature has repeatedly rejected. As the chairs of the Kalispel and Spokane tribes, we believe strongly that such an expansion would be a mistake. The Legislature carefully deliberated the pros and cons of sports betting and ultimately agreed on the right approach, one that is fully compliant with federal law.
Washington’s system of tribal gaming, in place for nearly three decades, has proven to be successful, safe, and responsible. Our state’s approach of limiting sports betting to tribal casinos protects public safety and reduces the risk of problem gambling. It keeps gambling out of the vast majority of our neighborhoods. Those who choose to place a sports bet at a tribal casino can feel safe in doing so, given the multiple layers of regulation and oversight that occur with tribal gaming. Sports betting at our respective casinos will be handled responsibly.
Contrary to the claims of advocates for sports betting in privately owned card rooms, our state and local governments do benefit from tribal gaming. So do our local and state economies. Tribal governments support nearly 60,000 jobs across Washington, with almost 70% of those jobs held by non-tribal members, accounting for $1.5 billion in wages and benefits. A 2017 analysis found that tribal gaming contributes $5.7 billion to the state’s economy. Dollars spent at tribal casinos stay in Washington State and generate over $722 million in state and local tax revenue.
The Spokane Tribe Casino opened in 2018 and recently completed a substantial expansion, with construction of a new hotel set to commence in early 2022. The recent expansion has added 300 new casino and construction jobs, and still more jobs will be created with the hotel construction and operation. The Spokane Tribe Casino makes significant charitable contributions annually, as well as annual payments to the city of Airway Heights. The Kalispel Tribe’s Northern Quest Casino generates $275 million in economic impact every year, has created 1,500 jobs in Spokane County, and generated $20 million in charitable contributions to community organizations and nonprofits.
Tribal gaming is governmental gaming: revenues are used to address the unmet needs of our members that have accumulated from generations of poverty and trauma.
Meanwhile, expanding sports betting to privately owned neighborhood card rooms would not produce significant new state and local government revenue. The state’s fiscal analysis shows that such activity would increase state revenues by less than $3 million annually. At the same time, tens of millions of dollars currently spent here in Washington for local benefit would be diverted to the wealthy out-of-state banks and investors backing the gambling company that owns nearly half of the state’s card rooms.
Tribes in Washington have built a strong partnership with local, state and federal governments. Our casinos provide fun, safe places for gaming, recreation, and other entertainment. The revenues stay in our state and improve the lives of hundreds of thousands of Washingtonians.
That is why tribal gaming enjoys strong public support. Public opinion research conducted by an independent pollster on behalf of the Washington Indian Gaming Association found that more than 70% of Washington State voters support gaming on tribal lands. Furthermore, by a two-to-one margin, the public supports the law that limits sports betting to tribal casinos, legalizing this activity but keeping it away from major population centers.
Our system of gaming in Washington state has been carefully crafted through intergovernmental cooperation between tribes and state and federal authorities. That proven system delivers much needed community and economic benefits, and limiting sports betting to the premises of our tribal casinos is a prudent approach. Our strong commitment is to handle sports betting safely and responsibly, and to make sure the revenues stay here at home and benefit us all.
Carol Evans is chairwoman of the Spokane Tribe. Glen D. Nenema is chairman of the Kalispel Tribe.
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