Currently, legal Washington sports betting consists of retail sportsbooks inside tribal casinos within the state’s borders. One of those tribal gaming authorities has cast a lawsuit that attempts to expand that activity as a classic “bait and switch” maneuver.
The Shoalwater Bay Tribe has asked a federal court to dismiss the lawsuit wholesale, arguing that the plaintiff in the action is trying a workaround to forcibly create a legal framework for sports betting in the state that no one in the state besides the plaintiff is interested in. The tribal casino operator says that the strategy is unsound as well.
Background of the Washington sports betting lawsuit
In July 2022, Maverick Gaming filed an amended complaint with the federal district court for the western district of Washington. Maverick operates several card rooms in Washington. It sought in the past to lobby the state government to expand legal sports betting, but so far unsuccessfully.
It did not name any of the 28 tribal authorities which have active gaming compacts with the state among the defendants in the lawsuit.
Rather, it brought suit against federal and state authorities, arguing that the compacts are illegal. Behind that argument are contentions that they amount to Washington giving the tribal casinos an illegal monopoly on sports betting in the state.
This is the first intervention in the lawsuit by one of those tribal authorities operating a casino within Washington’s borders. Part of its argument is that as such an entity, it is immune to the potential impact of such litigation.
The Shoalwater Bay Tribe’s contentions
The 35-page brief, filed Oct. 3, focuses on three main points:
- The Tribe and others like it are the real targets of Maverick Gaming’s lawsuit
- Their sovereign status makes them immune to such lawsuits and Maverick knows it
- The court has to dismiss the lawsuit because the tribes’ interests are material to the case but not represented
Lifting text from Maverick Gaming’s own complaint, the brief states that Maverick wants the court to void all gaming compacts between Washington and tribal authorities. Thus, the brief argues, the tribes are the party that this action truly takes aim at.
However, the Shoalwater Bay Tribe asserts federal law establishes that tribal authorities cannot be sued in such a way unless Congress explicitly authorizes the exact liability or the affected tribes waive their sovereign immunity in a specific way. Maverick Gaming is not challenging that sovereign immunity but rather going after the other parties to the gaming compacts to the same end.
The tribes argue that the invalidation of their gaming compacts with Washington would damage them. For that reason, the lawsuit cannot proceed without their involvement. Hearkening back to their second point, however, they are immune to such litigation.
“The Tribe is a required or necessary party because the Tribe’s protectable interests in continuing to offer gaming activities on its Indian lands are at stake, and Maverick cannot secure complete relief without joining the Tribe.”
“An indispensable party is one which ‘not only [has] an interest in the controversy, but an interest of such a nature that a final decree cannot be made without either affecting that interest, or leaving the controversy in such a condition that its final termination may be wholly inconsistent with equity and good conscience.”
The logical conclusion if the court adheres to that reasoning is a dismissal of the lawsuit. The Shoalwater Bay Tribe augments that argument as well.
Brief paints Maverick Gaming’s complaint as sour grapes
In other parts of the brief, the intervention characterizes Maverick Gaming’s complaint as the equivalent of taking its ball and going home when it lost. The Shoalwater Bay Tribe maintains the law in all facets is on its side.
“The Tribe has a federal right to conduct Class III gaming on its Reservation, rights in its Compact with Washington State that federal law expressly recognizes, and the sovereign right to immunity from the unconsented suit.”
The brief explicitly tries to remind the court that Washington’s legislature expressly denoted preference for tribal authorities to offer sports betting in the state. Additionally, it notes Maverick has other recourses it has not yet pursued if it doesn’t like the status quo.
Whether the court will follow the Shoalwater Bay Tribe’s logic is uncertain right now. If it does, Maverick Gaming may be looking at filing a second amended complaint and the prospects for that could narrow considerably.