Commentary: For better or worse, sports betting is here - although there's nothing to bet on

While you were responsibly staying informed about COVID-19 updates or going down the rabbit hole known as “Tiger King” on Netflix, there was another major breakthrough – and a perfectly ironic one at that: That sports betting is now legal inside tribal casinos in the state of Washington.

Of course, it WOULD come at a time when there are no sports to bet on and no open casinos.

But let’s take a closer look: Even though Governor Inslee signed the bill into law this week and it goes into effect immediately, the infrastructure will likely take months to set up anyway. That’s because tribal casinos who are interested in providing sports betting still have to negotiate contracts with the state’s gaming commission. So for anyone hoping to bet on a Seahawks game this fall, it’s a good thing it passed now, so the process is set in motion.

As I’ve said before: I personally don’t think this was the best way to legalize sports betting, but beggars can’t be choosers. And given the way our state approaches things, it’s a miracle that anything got done to begin with.

To recap: Under this plan, the state is not earning a single dime in the form of tax revenues. And while native tribes do invest millions of dollars toward housing, healthcare, education, along with other charities, the fact that the state has forfeited any future profits is pretty disappointing. The state has handed the keys to native tribes in order to mitigate its own risk, which is perfectly understandable.

In fact, as of last month – before the COVID-19 pandemic really took hold – Oregon’s lottery announced it’s actually on track to lose $5.3 million for the first nine months of this year. With all sports halted, I wouldn’t be surprised if they lose even more.

That’s after initial projections that the state would MAKE $6.3 million dollars in net profit.

In that sense at least, the state of Washington’s position is defensible: It separates itself from any responsibility of creating a gaming infrastructure from scratch and the upfront costs associated with that. In turn, it eliminates any possibility of having egg on its face if it loses money in the near term.

Still, I think this plan is a little shortsighted. Oregon’s original projections were $37 million in total net revenue over the next two years. That’s incredibly different than the fiscal study done by our state that said sports betting would only generate $3.5 million annually for the state’s general fund. The answer is likely somewhere in the middle.

In the end, I’m happy that Native groups will benefit from the newest state law. With casinos currently closed, they’re clearly dealing with devastating impacts of the pandemic, and the addition of this law will add another revenue stream down the line to help tribes recover.

But to me, this was a case of the state saying, “This was an issue that isn’t going away. We don’t want it to keep coming up. We don’t want the risk. We think opening up online gambling to everyone will have a negative impact on minors and increase gambling addiction. And we’re willing to sacrifice a potential financial boon down the line.”

Was it the right decision? Only time will tell.

And given our current situation, I’ll be thankful when I can one day walk into a casino in the state of Washington again, and this time, place a bet on my favorite team.