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Washington’s Tribal Sports Gaming Prevails as Casino Operator’s Legal Challenge Falters

It’s been a busy few months for the tribal gaming operators. The new regulations from the federal government may encourage Native American tribes to put more effort into the development of their casino businesses. Moreover, the long-awaited bill LD 585 became law and allowed Indian Tribes to provide players in Maine with legal sports betting. 

In more recent news, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington ruled that Maverick Gaming LLC’s legal claim against tribal casinos is null and void. Judge David Estudillo rejected Maverick’s lawsuit last week, which had been brought against state legislation allowing sportsbook services at tribal casino establishments and subsequent changes to Washington’s tribal compacts that put the provisions of the new bill into force. The court used Maverick’s failure to add Shoalwater Tribe, a required party, to the complaint as justification for dismissal.

The Case Between Maverick Gaming and Washington State Gambling Commission

Maverick, a local cardroom and out-of-state casino operator, claimed the compact modifications broke the equal treatment provision of the 5th Amendment and the Indian Gaming Regulation Act. The Washington State Gambling Commission members, Washington Governor Jay Inslee, Attorney General Bob Ferguson, and the U.S. Department of the Interior were all named in the complaint along with other federal and state authorities. In the complaint, it was claimed that the state’s 2020 sportsbook statute and later state-entered compacts with tribes amounted to a biased monopoly on gaming over sportsbooks and other forms of gambling.

The fact that the idea of sovereign immunity shields these tribes from lawsuits suggests that the lawsuit did not identify any of the tribes that were signatories to the compacts.

Shoalwater Tribe filed a request to dismiss the action for failure to join a needed party in October 2022 after making an application to intervene in the case. The Shoalwater Tribe claimed that the lawsuit was actually intended for them. The court rejected Maverick’s arguments after concluding that Shoalwater had an interest that was protected legally and that the case’s result may harm that interest if Shoalwater were not included in the complaint. The court thus dismissed Maverick’s claims that the US could effectively defend Shoalwater’s interests.

What’s at Stake?

In the past, tribes have had sole control over gambling operations outside of the few states where it is allowed. However, certain states now permit non-tribal establishments to enter the market after the Supreme Court’s ruling in Murphy v. National Collegiate Athletic Association approved state sportsbook legislation. As not all states go this route, aspiring market entrants are forced to use litigation and other strategies in order to gain market share. The court’s decision to reject Maverick’s lawsuit, however, is this effort’s most recent defeat.