When Will Online Sports Betting Be Legal in Washington State?

One of the most anticipated sports seasons of the year is almost here. The Washington State Supreme Court heard oral arguments last week regarding the upcoming legalization of sports betting in the state. While the case centers around the legality of Internet and mobile sports betting, the hearing itself was an opportunity for the court to examine the merits of allowing sports betting at all. Specifically, the court was asked to determine whether or not the state constitution’s prohibition against lotteries and gambling should apply to online sports betting, and whether or not the existing federal statutes prohibiting sports betting should be upheld.

How Do the Courts View Sports Betting?

In the case of Heavey v. Washington State Board of Racing, the state legislature passed a law legalizing sports betting in the state. The law took effect on January 1, 2018 and sets up a framework for sports betting in Washington State. However, two very important questions remained unanswered:

  • Does the state constitution’s prohibition on lotteries and gambling apply to sports betting?
  • Does the federal government have the right to regulate sports betting?

The state of Washington argued that since the state has chosen to regulate sports betting, the U.S. Congress does not have the authority to pass laws that prohibit or regulate such activity. As it turns out, the state’s argument is largely based on a misunderstanding of the case’s actual legal issues. The Seattle Times reports that the Washington State Board of Racing did not actually defend the state’s prohibition on lotteries and gambling, but instead argued that the federal government does not have the authority to regulate interstate commerce.

However, the court clearly indicated that it agrees with the state that interstate commerce should be regulated by the federal government. Therefore, even though the Board of Racing did not directly oppose the legalization of sports betting, its argument ultimately proves that it supports legalizing sports betting in the state. In fact, the Times reports that the court majority agreed with the state’s interpretation of the case’s legal issues, and that the ruling “is a ringing endorsement of legalized sports betting in Washington.”

Why Shouldn’t Lotteries And Gambling Be Prohibited?

The case of Heavey v. Washington State Board of Racing is significant because it challenges two deeply rooted beliefs:

  • That lottery and gambling activities are immoral and should not be permitted.
  • That the federal government should not regulate or prohibit sports betting.

In his dissent, Justice Stephen S. Adams argued that although the state constitution’s prohibition against lotteries and gambling applies only to “pari-mutuel betting in association with horses,” it should still be applied to the new form of gambling that is online sports betting.

“The majority’s opinion effectively overturns this significant and long-standing prohibition,” he wrote. “I would not support such an overturning lightly, particularly when done so for the sake of unregulated, Internet-based gambling.”

Ultimately, the court’s decision to allow sports betting in the state is a reflection of the times we live in. In an era where technology has made the world smaller and more accessible, online gambling is a practice that is here to stay.

Although the ruling makes online sports betting available to residents of the state of Washington, the issue is still unclear as to whether or not the practice will be subject to local, state, or federal government taxes. To find out, you will have to wait and see.