New legislative push seeks to legalize sports gambling in Washington

A company owning nearly half Washington’s “card-room” casinos threw its support Friday behind a new legislative push to legalize sports gambling throughout the state both in land-based and mobile form.

Maverick Gaming LLC had been a driving force behind this week’s introduction of HB-2478 and companion SB-6277, which seek to legalize widespread sports betting through licensed card rooms, racetracks and tribal casinos for pro sports everywhere and college sports outside Washington. The bills are sponsored by Rep. Brandon Vick (R-Vancouver) and Sens. Ann Rivers (R-La Center) and Curtis King (R-Yakima).

“We’ve done our best to be as inclusive and build as broad a base of support as possible for legislation we think can be successful,” said Eric Persson, a Hoquiam native and CEO and co-founder of Nevada-based Maverick, which in the past year has acquired 19 of the state’s 44 card rooms and is in the process of purchasing five more. “We’re looking forward to partnering with the Native American tribes in the state to bring a service to the Washingtonian public that there’s clearly a demand for.”

A competing effort at legalizing sports gambling — launched last year and initially sponsored by a current NHL Seattle director — has been focused on limiting the activity to Native American tribal venues.

And that renders unlikely any immediate “partnering’’ between the two camps, given the potential money at stake in a state with some of the nation’s toughest anti-gambling laws and where sports betting anywhere is outlawed. Any casinos here beyond tribal lands are limited to card rooms — also called “mini casinos” — where poker, blackjack and other card games can be played against the house but not individuals and where slot machines, video lottery terminals and video pull tabs are prohibited.

Persson acknowledged although he’s had initial dialogue with some tribal groups, nothing much has come of it.