Washington Guide To Legal Gambling

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WashingtonThe state of Washington, amid tremendous natural beauty, volcanoes, and coffeehouses, has had a rather favorable view of gambling since the 1970s.

Even though the progress of casinos has been gradual, it has been consistent and affirmative. Beginning in 1971, with the authorization of bingo and raffles, and then a year later, when voters approved a state lottery, Washington has charged to its current position. Gambling receipts totaled just shy of $3 billion in 2016.

The main portion of that figure is due to over $2.2 billion dollars coming in from tribal casinos. The Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988 provided for federally recognized Native American tribes to open casinos on reservation lands as long as they successfully negotiated an agreement (or “compact”) with each individual state government. With Washington’s deep history and connection to Native American tribes, it wasn’t long before casinos started popping up.

However, one unusual point of contention in this expansion of gaming has actually been slot machines. When the IGRA passed in 1988, Washington and its resident tribes could not agree on whether slot machines were covered under the act. The two sides argued back and forth for six years. In 1994, they filed a consensual lawsuit in federal court (nicknamed “the friendly lawsuit”) seeking clarity on whether any devices were permitted under Washington state law and, if so, which ones qualified.

Three years later, in September 1997, the court issued its opinion. The state did not have to allow slot machines. It did have to negotiate on other machines that satisfied a couple of stipulations. (No coins get inserted, no playing against the machines themselves.) Thus, the state and the tribes agreed on the creation of machines based on the state lottery. This means that they are much like video lottery terminals in other states. However, they are mostly indistinguishable from slot machines in form and function.

It is this system that has led to just over 27,000 slot machines spread across 27 casinos operated by 21 tribes. All 29 tribes have gaming compacts with the state, but eight have yet to open an establishment. Below are the five casinos with the largest number of slots available for play.

Land-based slots options

Property Location Number of Slots
Muckleshoot Casino Auburn 3,100
Tulalip Resort Casino Tulalip 2,200
Snoqualmie Casino Snoqualmie 1,700
Northern Quest Casino Airway Heights 1,650
Emerald Queen Casino at I-5 Tacoma 1,640

Online gambling options

Washington is in a unique position when it comes to online gambling. So far, Nevada, New Jersey, and Delaware have been the only states with sanctioned, regulated gaming sites. Most other states are either working toward iGaming (like Pennsylvania and New York) or are allowing online gambling to exist in a sort of legal gray area.

Washington has taken the alternative route. It’s one of the few states to outright ban online gambling and proscribe legal penalties – it’s a felony! Even fantasy sports betting is strictly prohibited. So far, any attempts to reverse the ban’s applicability to DFS have died in the Washington State Legislature. In a state with such prevalent gaming, it’s a bit shocking that the government has taken such a hard stance.

No firm explanation exists for this position. It is possible that the state wished to protect its land-based interests in the tribal casinos. The tax receipts on $3 billion dollars in revenue are massive. So it seems reasonable that the state would not want the money flow to slow down.

Social casino site options

All of the usual social gaming options exist in Washington. Slotomania, Big Fish, Double Down, and Zynga offer free slot play to Facebook visitors or those with mobile devices (which is basically everyone, at this point). A few of the in-state tribal casinos offer Play4fun network options so visitors can sample their games before going to the casinos.

However, with Washington’s online gambling ban, one must be exceptionally careful about the ins and outs of each site. The state has gone so far as to issue a brochure about vigilance regarding online social gaming. It outlines how to determine if what players are doing constitutes actual gambling, rather than merely a social function.

Since even social gaming seems to be balanced on a razor’s edge, it is recommended that Washington residents avoid social gaming sites, particularly those with a real-world component, like MyVegas. Its comp system might be construed as a prize under the law. That may subject players to the stringency of Washington’s legal system.

Operator profile

Muckleshoot Casino

The Muckleshoot Casino is the largest casino in Washington. It offers patrons more than 3,100 slot machines, 70 table games, keno, poker, and off-track betting.

There are also eight restaurants and six bars available for food and beverages. Plenty of options covering the gamut of tastes and preferences. The entire casino is non-smoking, which adds to the overall comfort level for most visitors.

“The Muck” is owned by the Muckleshoot Indian Tribe. This is a group descended from the Duwamish and Upper Puyallup tribes native to the area. The casino is located on reservation lands, nestled against towering Mount Rainier. The popularity of the property has to be at least partially attributed to its proximity to Seattle and Tacoma, only 30 miles from the former and 15 miles from the latter.

The casino’s charm, appointment, and setting make Muckleshoot the destination of choice for many residents and visitors alike. A wide variety of games and a healthy entertainment schedule in the resident club (Club Galaxy) mean people will continue to frequent The Muck for years to come.

State legal environment

  Permitted/Offered? Notes & Restrictions
Land-Based Gambling Yes Tribal casinos only, but extensively throughout state
Online Gambling No Class C Felony under state law
Lottery Yes
Charitable or House-Based Gambling Yes Bingo and raffles
Minimum Gambling Age 18, but many casinos restrict to 21 due to alcoholic beverage sales


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