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Maverick launches legal challenge over tribal gaming monopoly in Washington

| By Robert Fletcher
Gaming and entertainment business Maverick Gaming has filed litigation challenging what it said is an “erroneous” application of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA), granting tribes in the state exclusive rights to certain types of gaming.
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Filed in the US District Court for the District of Columbia, the legal challenge said the state is using the IGRA “inappropriately” to give tribes exclusivity to gaming such as sports betting, which are currently not allowed in non-tribal gaming properties in Washington.

Washington governor Jay Inslee in March of 2020 signed into law House Bill 2638, which legalised in-person sports betting at Class III gaming facilities in the state. Nine tribal casinos were then given the go-ahead to offer betting in September last year, after amendments to their gaming compacts with the state were ratified.

However, this was not extended to non-tribal venues such as commercial cardrooms in the state, with a bill seeking to do so having not progressed into law.

Cardrooms are restricted to offering up to 15 tables for house-banked card games but are not able to offer any form of sports betting. There are currently 44 licensed cardrooms in Washington State, 19 of which are operated by Maverick.

Maverick Gaming is seeking to challenge this approach, employing a legal team that includes Theodore Olson, who successfully represented the state of New Jersey in the 2018 case that saw the Wire Act repealed and states permitted to create legal, regulated and taxed sports betting markets.

“The IGRA was intended to guarantee parity between tribal and non-tribal gaming, but unfortunately Washington state is misusing IGRA to instead create tribal monopolies on certain types of gaming, such as sports betting,” Olson said. 

“Contrary to IGRA’s own words, the law is being used to insulate tribes in Washington state from competition that exists in many other states with legal gaming marketplaces.”

Maverick co-founder and chief executive Eric Persson added: “We support and respect tribal equality and sovereignty. Our decision to file this litigation is founded on the same values that we have brought to all of our efforts at Maverick Gaming. 

“We are proud of our union-led workforce in Washington that offers family-wage jobs with benefits and a pension, helping create access to economic opportunity in communities across my home state. 

“That access to economic opportunity relies on a fair application of laws such as the IGRA and I am hopeful that this lawsuit will resolve successfully so that tribal casinos and smaller commercial cardrooms like those owned by Maverick Gaming may offer the same types of legal gaming, such as sports betting, just like commercial cardrooms and tribal casinos already offer in other states.”

Responding to the filing, Rebecca George, executive director of the Washington Indian Gaming Association (WIGA), criticised the challenge, describing it as a “desperate attempt” that could be “dangerous and destructive” for the state.

“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,” George said.

“It would severely undermine the well-regulated and safe system of limited gaming that has been established in Washington state over three decades of carefully negotiated compacts between the state of Washington and native American 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. 

“In short, this dangerous and destructive lawsuit is without merit, and were it to somehow be successful it would cause irreparable harm not only to historically marginalised tribal communities but also to the broader public, which opposes a massive expansion of gambling in their neighbourhoods and communities. 

“We will be reviewing their complaint more carefully, but Washington state’s tribes stand united in opposing any attempt to undermine the IGRA, tribal compacts and what the tribes have worked so hard to build.”

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