Washington State has traditionally prohibited most forms of gambling and betting, but attitudes are changing and gaming options for residents are slowly but surely expanding.
In 2020, Washington legalized sports betting at tribal casinos to give Native American gaming operators the go-ahead to launch retail sportsbooks. Aside from tribal casinos, other Washington gambling options include licensed card rooms, mobile horse racing betting, off-track betting parlors (OTBs) and the state lottery.
Legal Washington Betting Sites
Horse and Greyhound Betting:
Washington Sports Betting
The Washington legislature legalized sports betting in March 2020 with a bill authorizing tribal casinos to launch retail sportsbooks under the authority of the Washing Gambling Commission. Under the new law, each of Washington’s 29 Native American casinos may begin taking wagers on casino property once properly licensed.
Governor Jay Inslee signed the bill into law on March 25th, 2020 but a start date has not yet been specified. Before the first Washington sportsbooks open their doors to customers, tribes must now negotiate amendments to their gaming compacts with the state to add sports betting to the menu of authorized activities.
The passage of the law makes Washington the 21st state in the Union to legalize sports betting and the third state with sportsbooks controlled exclusively by tribal casinos. Other gaming interests such as card rooms, racetracks and the state lottery were left out of discussions, and mobile betting is not authorized by the bill.
Estimating a start date for WA sports betting was made difficult by the 2020 coronavirus pandemic, which led to reduced government functions across the country. Additionally, the threat of legal action from local cardroom operators excluded from sports betting could further complicate matters.
Additional details have yet to be worked out, but some key points from WA sports betting law include:
- Washington Gambling Commission to oversee sports betting and issue licenses
- Tribal casinos with more than twenty years’ experience may apply for licenses
- Wagers may be accepted on pro and college sports, the Olympics and esports
- Wagers on minor league sports prohibited
- Mobile wagers may only be accepted from customers who are physically present on casino property
The full text of Washington sports betting law occupies WA Rev Code § 9.46.
Washington Horse Racing Betting
The Washington Horse Racing Commission (WHRC) oversees the state’s racetracks and betting activities. Two land-based tracks are authorized to host horse races and accept wagers in person at the track. Washington also permits off-track betting at 13 locations across the state.
Online Horse Racing Betting in WA
Washington State legalized advance deposit wagering in 2004, giving licenses websites the authority to accept wagers on horse races held in or out of state. Under RCW § 67.16.260, authorized ADWs may not extend credit to customers and may only accept wagers from patrons who are 21 or older.
The Horse Racing Commission oversees the conduct of parimutuel horse wagering and is responsible for issuing licenses to ADWs. The Commission provides a public listing of all licensed horse racing betting sites here.
WA Daily Fantasy Sports
There was a time when the legality of fantasy sports was open to debate. Some of the biggest fantasy sites accepted residents from Washington up until 2014. However, the gambling commission has since clarified its stance on fantasy betting and declared that the activity is illegal according to the 1973 Gambling Act.
This page on the website of the Washington State Gambling Commission lays it out clearly:
In 1973, when the Gambling Act was first passed, 100-square sports pool boards were authorized.
The NCAA basketball “Final Four” tournament and the associated bracket pools increased in popularity after 1979 when ESPN aired the tournament on television for the first time. However, bracket pools, office sports pools, and fantasy sports have never been authorized as gambling activities in Washington State and are illegal.
The fantasy sports industry has demonstrated a willingness to take calculated legal risks in some states, but the risk is too great in Washington State. As a result, the nation’s major fantasy sites remain closed to Washingtonians until something changes in the law.
Currently, there are no active efforts to legalize fantasy sports in Washington State. SB 5169 introduced in 2017 and again in 2018 proposed classifying fantasy sports contests as games of skill. The bill offered no regulations or rules apart from providing a legal definition of “fantasy competitions” and exempting such competitions the state’s definition of gambling.
The bill failed to advance in both years and there have been no efforts to reintroduce similar legislation since. This leaves Washington one of the few states in which daily fantasy sports contests are clearly prohibited by law.
Online Gambling in Washington
Online casinos and poker sites are prohibited by some of the strictest laws in the nation in Washington. Senate Bill SSB 6613 was passed in 2006 for the purpose of clarifying Washington’s stance on participation in unlawful internet betting.
The passage of this bill was alarming for the poker community at the time because the law made it a Class C felony to participate in any form of unauthorized wagering over the internet. A Class C felony in Washington can result in up to 5 years in prison and a $10,000 fine. This remains the most draconian online gaming law in the nation to this day.
The summary of the bill reads as follows:
The internet and telecommunications systems are added to the list of means over which a person is prohibited from knowingly transmitting or receiving wagers or other gambling information. The penalty for knowingly engaging in such illegal transmission or receipt is increased from a gross misdemeanor to a Class C felony. The Lottery Commission is prohibited from offering any game where they internet can be used to buy tickets or chances.
Nearly a decade later, nobody has ever been charged with a felony under this law. There appears to be no appetite or enforcement mechanism to identify and prosecute people who participate in unauthorized forms of gambling on their personal computers.
Even so, the mere existence of this law shows Washington has zero interest in legalizing poker sites or casinos any time soon. A number of offshore poker sites that already break federal gaming laws have even decided to stop doing business in Washington due to the additional legal risk presented by the law.
Land-based poker and gambling games are legal at authorized locations throughout the state, namely tribal casinos. Live poker is permitted at licensed facilities under the following conditions:
- No more than 5 betting rounds in any one game
- Each betting round permits no more than 4 wagers in any one round
- The maximum amount of a single wager does not exceed $40
- Class F licensees may permit wagers of up to $100 each
Social gambling is permitted under Washington law as long as the players compete on equal grounds, the house earns no commission and the only money earned by participants is a result of their personal winnings in the game. RCW § 9.46.0269 has this to say on the matter:
“Player,” as used in this chapter, means a natural person who engages, on equal terms with the other participants, and solely as a contestant or bettor, in any form of gambling in which no person may receive or become entitled to receive any profit therefrom other than personal gambling winnings, and without otherwise rendering any material assistance to the establishment, conduct or operation of a particular gambling activity. A natural person who gambles at a social game of chance on equal terms with the other participants shall not be considered as rendering material assistance to the establishment…
A bill introduced in 2015 and again in 2016 attempted to authorize and regulate Washington poker sites failed to gain any traction, and no other real efforts have been made since. A hearing to discuss the issue of online poker was conducted in 2017, but nothing came of that effort either.