Ever since Washington state lawmakers passed legislation in 2006 making it a felony to gamble online, the Evergreen State has been one of the least friendly toward any sort of online gambling. However, the state does allow other forms of gambling, meaning residents have a variety of ways to play, just not online.
Washington has a large number of tribal casinos as well as many non-tribal, house-banked card rooms scattered throughout the state. There’s a lottery and charitable gaming, and recently sports betting became legal. Online gambling remains prohibited, however, which includes online casinos and poker sites.
Here’s an overview of gambling in Washington, including its history concerning online gambling and some discussion of the prospects for online casinos going forward.
Is online gambling legal in Washington?
No, online gambling is most assuredly not legal. Washington is unique insofar as it not only prohibits casinos from conducting online gambling but also has made it explicitly illegal for individuals to gamble online as well. In 2006, Washington passed a constitutional amendment making it a felony to gamble online in the state, even on sites that aren’t located in Washington or the US. The law states:
“Whoever knowingly transmits or receives gambling information by … the internet … or knowingly installs or maintains equipment for the transmission or receipt of gambling information shall be guilty of a class C felony.”
Those guilty of a Class C felony in Washington can face penalties of up to five years in prison and/or a $10,000 fine. According to the law, any sort of online wager is an example of transmitting or receiving “gambling information” and thus violates the law. Washington has also explicitly prohibited online daily fantasy sports, which means DFS sites like DraftKings and FanDuel do not allow players from Washington to enter their contests. Nor is it possible to purchase Washington state lottery tickets online.
Washington’s new sports betting law does permit tribal casinos to offer online wagering, but only for patrons who are physically located at a casino. However, none of the casinos has yet added an online option, so even this very limited version of online gambling is not available in the state.
All that being said, there is one exception to the overall prohibition on online gambling in Washington. The state does allow advance deposit wagering on horse races online using sites like TVG and TwinSpires.
Are online casinos legal in Washington?
Not at all. As a result of Washington’s strict law forbidding online gambling, there are no real money online casinos in the state. Even alternative options like Chumba Casino, Funzpoints, and LuckyLand Slots that use virtual currency are not available for players from Washington. You won’t find any sweepstakes-style casino sites accepting players from Washington.
In fact, even sites offering free-to-play casino games (sometimes called “social casinos”) have encountered legal objections over the years. In late March 2018, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a lower court’s ruling on the subject. The higher court decided that when sites offer games using virtual casino chips, they violate the Washington State Gambling Act.
Is online poker legal in Washington?
The answer is no here, as well. Even offshore online poker sites that accept players from other states (albeit without any regulation and without abiding by those states’ laws) do not accept players from Washington. Following that March 2018 ruling noted above, PokerStars also stopped allowing players from Washington to participate in play-money games on the site.
Will Washington regulate online gambling in the future?
It seems unlikely Washington will expand gambling further to authorize online casinos or other types of online gambling in the state, at least not any time soon.
There was significant legislative support for the new sports betting law that permits the state’s federally recognized tribes to offer sports betting. Other proposed bills would have allowed non-tribal entities to offer sports betting, such as the state’s house-banked card rooms. However, those bills failed to earn the necessary backing to advance. As noted, the new law allows tribes to offer online sports wagering at their casinos, but not statewide.
The fact that Washington’s strict 2006 law prohibiting online gambling has remained on the books for so long suggests that a great deal of change would be necessary for the state’s lawmakers to entertain legalizing and regulating online gambling in the future.
Legal online gambling vs. offshore sites
Some offshore gambling sites promote themselves as legal in Washington, but this is not the case. Even so, these sites are often willing to accept deposits from players located in Washington.
They operate outside of US law and thus are not licensed or regulated by the gambling commission of any US state. Therefore, if US players run into any difficulty regarding their funds, or they suspect fraudulent activity on the sites, those players have no legal recourse.
Of course, the situation is even less inviting in Washington, where gambling online is considered a felony. Some might want to argue that since the state has never actually prosecuted anyone for gambling online, there is no harm in doing so. However, the fact that no one has been prosecuted is irrelevant; it is still against the law to gamble online in Washington, including on offshore sites.
Who regulates gambling in Washington?
The Washington State Gambling Commission is the agency that oversees gambling in the state, meaning it licenses and regulates all gambling in Washington. The WSGC also works with local, state, federal, tribal, and even international agencies to enforce gambling laws as well as to regulate and control gambling in the state.
Washington has a number of legal tribal casinos that offer Class III casino games. These games are additionally overseen by local tribal gambling agencies. The WSGC also has its own Tribal Gaming Unit, with agents who make on-site visits to help ensure compliance.
What is the legal gambling age in Washington?
In Washington, the minimum age to gamble is 18 years old. However, the minimum goes up to 21 in establishments that serve alcohol. Some tribal casinos in the state allow those who are 18 or older to gamble, while others require patrons to be at least 21. Meanwhile, the minimum age to bet on horse racing in Washington is 18, although to wager on any of the ADW sites, you must be at least 21.
Responsible gambling resources in WA
Washington has many programs and initiatives to promote responsible gambling and to help prevent or treat problem gambling. These include multiple statewide organizations.
The Washington State Health Care Authority oversees the Washington State Problem Gambling Program. The program provides treatment options for individuals affected by problem gambling as well as support for family members affected by problem gambling. The website includes various materials and resources to help assess problem gambling, including links to different gambling treatment agencies in the state. The program also supports the Washington State Problem Gambling Helpline, open 24/7 at 800-547-6133.
The Evergreen Council on Problem Gambling is another resource available to those in Washington. The organization provides a number of programs, including treatment services and recovery support services. It has a number of training programs, too, to help educate the public about issues associated with problem gambling. The organization additionally sponsors a certification program for those working in the gambling industry called the Responsible Gaming Program.
There are separate tribe-run programs in the state as well designed to help with problem gambling. These include Lummi Nation Behavioral Health in Bellingham and Tulalip Tribal Behavioral Health in Tulalip.
Legal gambling in Washington
Washington offers a number of legal gambling options. First off, the state legalized betting on horse races back in the 1930s, and it remains legal today. So does off-track betting at licensed OTB parlors and online horse betting.
In the early 1970s, Washington passed laws allowing certain forms of charitable gaming, including bingo, raffles, punch boards and pull-tabs. In 1982, the state introduced the Washington Lottery. Lottery players in the state can play a variety of draw and scratch games, including the big multi-state draw games like Powerball and Mega Millions. And of course, legal sports betting is also in play.
So to say that Washington is devoid of gambling is a misnomer. It has had several decades of expansion, not the least of which was the launch of house-banked card rooms.
Cardrooms in Washington
Starting in 1997, Washington began allowing house-banked cardrooms, sometimes called “mini-casinos.” These rooms spread games like blackjack, but some also offer traditional player-versus-player poker. Individual jurisdictions can choose to prohibit such rooms, if they wish. They can also decide if they want to allow only house-banked games, traditional poker, or both. Many jurisdictions have prohibited these rooms, but there are still dozens of them throughout the state.
The largest card rooms in the state are Caribbean Cardroom Kirkland (15 tables), the Fortune Poker Room (14 tables), and the Palace Casino Lakewood (11 tables). You can find a full list of licensed card rooms in Washington here.
Are there casinos in Washington?
Yes, there are — a lot of them. In fact, all of them are Native American-owned. Thus, you’ll only find tribal casinos in Washington, and no commercial casinos as other states may have. There are 29 federally recognized tribes in Washington. All 29 of them have gambling compacts with the state, and 22 of them operate gambling facilities, in some cases multiple casinos.
The Washington tribes will undoubtedly continue to be involved in any sort of gambling expansion going forward. The recent legalization of sports betting in Washington illustrates the tribes’ centrality when it comes to gambling in the state. Only the tribes can offer legal sports betting in Washington, and only at their casinos. It is therefore unlikely that non-tribal commercial entities will be opening full-fledged casinos in Washington any time soon. New legislation would have to pass for that to happen, and the tribes would certainly oppose any such effort.
Altogether, there are around 30 casinos currently operating in the state. The majority of these properties are in the northwestern part of Washington around Seattle, Tacoma and Everett. Here’s an overview of five of the largest casinos in the state. In the descriptions, “slots” refers to the slots-like electronic games allowed in Washington via the Tribal Lottery System (more on that below). While none of the casinos below currently have live poker, other smaller properties in the state do, such as the 7 Cedars Casino in Sequim.
- Address: 2402 Auburn Way South
- Location: Auburn
- Phone: 800-804-4944
- Operator: Muckleshoot Tribe
- Live poker? No
With more than 3,000 slots and 75 table games, the Muckleshoot Casino in Auburn is the largest casino in the state. It also previously hosted a popular 19-table poker room that recently closed. Meanwhile, there is also Muckleshoot Bingo located right across the street, with another 500 machines and 20-plus bingo sessions each week.
- Address: 1 Cowlitz Way
- Location: Ridgefield
- Phone: 877-GO-iLani (877-464-5264)
- Operator: Cowlitz Tribe
- Live poker? No
The ilani Casino has close to 3,000 slots as well, plus 75 tables featuring eight games and the largest selection of midi-baccarat in the state. The property is expanding, as well, to add additional casino space and a 14-story, 300-room hotel.
Tulalip Resort Casino
- Address: 10200 Quil Ceda Blvd.
- Location: Tulalip
- Phone: 888-272-1111
- Operator: Tulalip Tribes
- Live poker? No
The Tulalip Resort Casino features 200,000 square feet of space and over 2,400 slots. There are also nearly 40 table games plus bingo to go along with a 370-room, four-star hotel.
Emerald Queen Casino Tacoma
- Address: 2920 East R St.
- Location: Tacoma
- Phone: 888-831-7655
- Operator: Puyallup Tribe
- Live poker? No
The Emerald Queen Casino Tacoma, also known as the Emerald Queen Casino at I-5, is a large property boasting over 2,100 slots, more than 60 table games, a hotel with 155 rooms and suites, six restaurants and a 250-seat sports bar. The sister property Emerald Queen Casino at Fife, located just a couple of miles away, is smaller and has even more slots (over 2,300), though no table games.
- Address: 37500 SE North Bend Way
- Location: Snoqualmie
- Phone: 425-888-1234
- Operator: Snoqualmie Tribe
- Live poker? No
Advertising itself as “Seattle’s closest casino,” the Snoqualmie Casino has 1,700 slots and 54 table games, plus eight restaurants and an 11,000-square-foot entertainment venue.
Games at Washington casinos
The tribal-state gambling compacts in Washington allow tribes to offer Class III games at their casinos, including table games, poker, and more. However, a unique feature of Washington casinos is the slots. What they call slots aren’t exactly like the slot machines you find in Las Vegas, but rather a kind of electronic game based on lottery scratch tickets called Electronic Scratch Tickets. This distinct tribal version of electronic slots is via the Tribal Lottery System. According to the compacts, the casinos cannot offer traditional slots.
There are no handles to pull or mechanical spinning wheels such as slots typically feature. Even so, the games play a lot like slots, and as already mentioned the casinos often describe them as slots in their advertising. Generally speaking, the machines have a $5 maximum per wager, although the compacts allow up to $20 per wager on 15% of a casino’s machines. Each tribe’s compact also sets a limit on the number of these machines the tribe can have.
In 2020, Washington sports betting became legal, although tribes must renegotiate their compacts with the state before adding sportsbooks. Fifteen of the tribes did amend their compacts, and in late 2021, those that did were able to open sportsbooks.
When visiting Washington casinos, you’ll encounter a variety of games, potentially including the following:
- Slots (i.e., Tribal Lottery System gambling devices)
- Casino poker (e.g., Pai Gow, Three Card Poker, Let It Ride, Ultimate Texas Hold’em)
- Off-track betting
Horse betting in Washington
Pari-mutuel wagering on horse racing is legal in Washington, as is off-track betting at licensed OTB locations. The Washington Horse Racing Commission provides regulatory oversight.
There are two licensed racetracks in the state currently in operation, Emerald Downs in Auburn and Sun Downs in Kennewick. There are also around a dozen OTB parlors in operation around the state at present. Some of these are in the state’s tribal casinos, such as at the Muckleshoot Casino in Auburn and the Northern Quest Casino in Spokane. There are also standalone parlors in taverns and sports bars.
Washington also permits advance deposit wagering, aka online betting on horse races, on a number of sites allowed by the WHRC. These sites include the following:
- 123 Gaming Corporated
- NYRA Bets
- Watch and Wager
- XpressBet Inc.
History of gambling in Washington
Washington first became a state in 1889, and in its original constitution prohibited lotteries and other forms of gambling. In 1933, lawmakers authorized betting on horse racing, though it wouldn’t be until the early 1970s they would allow bingo, raffles and other types of charitable gaming.
Eventually, more types of gambling would become legal, including a state lottery, tribal casinos, house-banked cardrooms, and sports betting. Here are some of the key dates in the history of gambling in Washington:
- 1982: Washington legalizes a state-run lottery, becoming the 16th state to do so, with the first tickets going on sale in November.
- 1992: Four years after the passage of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, the Lummi Tribe opens Washington’s first tribal casino. Later that year, the Tulalip Tribe opens the second.
- 1997: The state Legislature approves house-banked card rooms, also known as “mini-casinos,” where blackjack and casino poker games are allowed as well as traditional player-versus-player poker games.
- 2006: Lawmakers pass a constitutional amendment making online gambling illegal, a Class C felony with a penalty of up to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine. The most severe anti-online gambling law in the country, it withstands later court challenges and remains in effect today, although no individual has ever been prosecuted for violating it.
- 2020: Washington lawmakers pass a bill authorizing the state’s tribes to offer sports betting at their casinos.