The first steps to legalized sports betting in Washington have started, with four tribes in negotiations with the state to amend their compacts.
The Kalispel, Snoqualmie, Suquamish, and Tulalip tribes are all negotiating to work sports betting into their agreements with the state, according to the Washington State Gaming Commission.
Sports betting in Washington was legalized in March as Gov. Jay Inslee signed ESHB 2638 into law. The bill only authorizes tribal casinos to offer land-based sports betting with mobile available at the property.
The Snoqualmie and Tulalip did not respond to requests for comments. The Suquamish said they have nothing to share at this time.
Kevin Zenishek, executive director of casino operations at Northern Quest casino, detailed the ongoing negotiations for the Kalisepl Indians. Along with Northern Quest just outside of Spokane, the Kalispel also operate the Kalispel Casino 60 miles to the north.
Washington sports betting negotiation details
The Kalispel began negotiations about a month ago with one meeting with the gaming commission so far. Another meeting was scheduled for Monday, Zenishek said.
So far, talks have gone well, he added. There was also a government-to-government quarterly meeting that the Kalispel had last week.
There were some “areas of concern for both parties” that were addressed through a healthy discussion, Zenishek said.
Before the coronavirus pandemic, he was optimistic sports betting could have launched before the start of the NFL season. But the virus has shifted priorities as Northern Quest and casinos around the country are now focused on safely operating in a new environment.
Now, the optimist in him hopes to see Washington sports betting launch before the end of 2020. Even then he knows the timing of certain sports events could change those plans.
Kalispel talking to 5 sportsbook operators
The Kalispel cut their search for a sports betting partner from more than 10 to just five operators, Zenishek said.
Several of those in the RFP process are key US players everyone knows, he said. But one could come as a surprise.
“They’re not a very well-known name, at least in the US,” he said. “They’ve got an excellent sales team and from what I’ve seen an excellent support team. The product is simple and it works well from what I’ve seen.”
Mobile is in the plans
On-site mobile will be part of the Northern Quest casino’s sports betting plans no matter which operator partners with the Kalispel, Zenishek said.
Northern Quest has a mobile app currently from Joingo, which creates apps to boost mobile engagement for casino operators. The sportsbook operators said they’d be willing to build an interface into Joingo’s app.
Mobile is necessary for multiple reasons including in-play betting, more transactions with an app and the fact that people want to touch less surfaces because of the coronavirus, Zenishek said.
There won’t be a huge retail presence at the casino because of the mobile focus, though retail and kiosks would launch before mobile, he added.
WA sports betting lawsuit coming?
The launch of Washington sports betting may not be solely up to the tribes.
Maverick Gaming CEO Eric Persson said there would be a lawsuit over the emergency clause inserted into the sports betting bill. Maverick Gaming, which operates 19 of the state’s 44 cardrooms, was a driving force behind a sports betting bill that would have included both commercial and tribal operators.
The emergency clause claimed the need for immediate enaction of the bill. But Persson and a legal opinion obtained by Maverick disagree. Persson thinks the emergency clause was a way to skip a referendum as there was no way to get the needed 60% approval with retail-only betting at tribal casinos.
Requests to see if a lawsuit is still planned went unanswered by Persson.
“I have the money, the time and the guts to fight it so let’s do it,” Persson told LSR in February. “That’s how I’m looking at it.”