By John Larson
An effort to legalize sports gambling in this state appears unlikely to pass, but the prime sponsor of the bill in the Washington State House of Representatives thinks it is an idea whose time has come. Representative Eric Pettigrew (D-Seattle) introduced House Bill 1975, which called for legalizing sports betting in tribal casinos. The measure would legalize betting on college and professional sporting events in sports books located inside tribal gaming establishments. The House Committee on Commerce and Gaming held a hearing on the proposed legislation last month.
One interesting element of the bill is that it calls for legalizing online betting inside tribal facilities. Washington is the only state in the nation that has banned any form of online gambling. It is a class C felony in this state.
Pettigrew said his bill generated a lot of interest. He discussed how sports gambling is already a common practice among many Americans. The upcoming NCAA basketball tournament, an annual event commonly referred to as March Madness, is among our nation’s more popular events for gambling, with many informal pools in workplaces. Many newspapers publish brackets, which gamblers use in predicting the winning and losing teams.
The Super Bowl is another such event. Pettigrew noted the common practice of Super Bowl parties where people purchase a square and wager on scoring during the game. Twice a year he goes to Las Vegas, where he enjoys placing a small wager on a game and watching it on television. “It is so much more fun than other forms of gambling,” he remarked. Pettigrew said he would rather spend his money in his home state than travel to Nevada to spend it.
He said the bill, which is currently in the committee, appears dead this session. “It is on life support.” Pettigrew said it drew much interest from tribal casino operators as well as non-tribal gaming interests. He thinks any effort to allow sports books in non-tribal establishments is likely something that the Legislature would not address, as he thinks it would go to a vote of the people.
If the bill does indeed die this session, Pettigrew plans to introduce a version of it again next year. He noted that many laws have to go through such a process of several years before gaining enough support to pass. He said football fans are thrilled by the 99-yard long touchdown pass, but the majority of action during a game is plays that result in yards in short chunks. “We had a pretty good drive,” he said. “Next year we need to move the ball farther.”