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A US District Court for the Western District of Washington has dismissed a lawsuit by Maverick Gaming which challenged the state law that allows sports betting only at tribal casinos and the application of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.

Chief Judge David Estudillo dismissed Maverick Gaming’s lawsuit, which was filed last year against Governor Jay Inslee, Attorney General Bob Ferguson and members of the Washington State Gambling Commission, including ex officio commissioners: Sens. Steve Conway and Jeff Holy and Reps. Shelley Kloba and Brandon Vick.

The judge said in his ruling: “The court finds that Shoalwater has not waived its sovereign immunity and cannot be joined to this action… Absent an express waiver by congress or a clear and unequivocal waiver by the tribe, tribes retain sovereign immunity from suit.” 

The gaming company believed that sports betting in Washington should be allowed beyond tribal casinos, backing state legislation that supported the expansion.

Maverick Gaming initially filed the litigation in the US District Court for the District of Columbia in January 2022, claiming the IGRA was “being used inappropriately to give tribes exclusive rights to certain types of gaming, such as sports betting, that are not allowed in non-tribal gaming properties in Washington State.”

However, in May last year, the case was moved to US District Court for the Western District of Washington.

The Shoalwater Bay Tribe filed a motion to dismiss the case in September after intervening as a defendant for that purpose, a motion backed by the Attorney General’s office, the federal government and 17 tribes.

Commenting on the dismissal of the lawsuit, Attorney General Ferguson said: “This is a significant victory for tribal sovereignty. Washington law strikes the right balance by permitting sports betting and confining it to tribal casinos, where tribes have experience carefully regulating gambling where individuals must be physically present.”

Washington passed a law in March 2020 to allow the state Gambling Commission to enter into compacts with the state’s tribes to allow sports betting at tribal casinos and their surrounding premises. The state’s sports wagering market launched in September 2021.

“The ruling today is a complete vindication of our assertion that Maverick Gaming has been attempting to undermine the sovereign rights of Indian tribes not just here in Washington State, but nationally as well,” commented Charlene Nelson, Chair of the Shoalwater Bay Tribe

“We appreciate that Judge Estudillo understood that and has now dismissed the case. As we said at the time of our legal filing, it pained us to have to legally oppose a member of our tribe, but Maverick’s case, if successful, would have irreparably harmed historically marginalized tribal communities, and would have run counter to the will of the legislature and the general public.” 

Rebecca George, Executive Director of the Washington Indian Gaming Association, added: “This is an important legal victory. Maverick’s lawsuit was a direct attack on the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA), which over the last three decades has been a pathway for tribes to regain their self-reliance by generating revenue to lift tribal communities out of poverty and despair. 

“It is also a strong ratification of the collaborative and productive relationship that Washington’s tribes have developed with state and federal officials to create a safe, limited and well-regulated system of gaming in Washington State.”