With nearly no-tolerance laws on the books regarding gambling in Washington state since its inception, Washingtonians found themselves facing massive corruption and huge networks of gambling run by organized crime figures. Busts in 1971 led to massive liberalization of attitudes toward legal gabmling in Washington, and the casino gaming landscape in the state exploded in the 1990s after federal law allowed Native Americans to establish gambling on reservation land. Laws were further liberalized in some counties, with the result that about 50 casinos offering full gambling are open for business 20 years later.
Population: 7.062 million (2014 est.)
Area: 71,362 sq. mi.
Gambling Age (Casinos): 18 to 21
Gambling Age (Lottery): 18
Number of Casinos: around 50
• 5% of all U.S. exports (about $35 billion) originate in Washington.
• Washington is the United States’ largest producer of apples and raspberries.
• The Yakima Indian Reservation is still home to more than 10,000 wild horses.
• Washington has the highest per capita population of atheist/agnostics in the U.S.
The history of gambling in Washington takes a fairly typical path punctuated by some intrigue on its way to the 21st century.
When Washington was incorporated into the Union in 1889, the state constitution included a clause that prohibited all forms of gambling. As was fairly typical in the 1930s in America, the economic challenges of the Great Depression were met in part on the state level in Washington with the legalization of pari-mutuel betting at horse tracks, while all other forms of gambling remained illegal.
Beginning in the 1950s, Washington became a hotbed of organized crime activity in illegal gambling rings, typically involving sports betting (in those days before Seattle hosted any professional sports teams). By 1971, the problem had become rife enough in Seattle and the greater King County area that a grand jury issued indictments against some 51 (!) law enforcement and other public officials. Though this appeared to clean up the rampant corruption and illegal activity in the Seattle region, straight through to the 2010s, busts of organized crime involving gambling in Washington are still made regularly.
The reaction by state legislators was rapid-fire: In 1971, low-stakes bingo and raffles were authorized; in ’72, a referendum allowed for legal casino games by a 60%-40% vote. In ’73, the state’s Gambling Commission was created, while pull tabs and "Las Vegas Night fundraisers” were permitted by law. Finally, in ’74, Washington was suddenly among the U.S.’s more progressive states gambling-wise when the state legalized card rooms for poker playing. And if you think this stuff all got ramrodded through the political process a bit too quickly, well, you’re probably justifiably suspicious: In 1980, the state’s House Speker, Senate Majority Leader and a pro-gambling lobbyists were indicted on conspiracy and bribery charges.
A Washington state lottery was established in 1982, but naturally the biggest legal machination for gambling in the state was the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) of 1988. In ’92, a gambling compact between the Tulalip Tribe and the state of Washington was signed and construction of casinos and casino resorts began on Native American land.
Seeing the success of such venues, other interests lobbied state legislators through the 2000s until approval for casinos on non-Native American reservation land was given.
The 50 or so casinos open for business in Washington are fairly well spread throughout the state, and you’ll probably have to leave the city to visit one. No town hosts more than one full-on casino and, after visiting the small Roxbury Casino (the games share space with a bowling alley and restaurant), Yakima (pop. 91,000+) is the largest Washington city hosting a gaming parlor, the Nob Hill Casino.
Also of note is the Suquamish Clearwater Casino Resort. At about 110 miles south of the Canadian border, this is the last Native American casino you’ll hit before entering the Great White North. the last West Coast stop before the border – and the last chance for gambling at U.S. casinos.
At those Native American-operated casinos in Washington where alcohol is not served, one may be 18 years old to play at the casino; the same goes for the state’s card rooms, so call ahead if you’re in that 18-21 range to find out a given location’s minimum age. For the state lottery, horse racing and other legal gambling in Washington, the minimum age is 21.
We’re stumped. No kidding. After doing dozens of these things and searching in vain online for a solid hour, nothing. There has been and are no famous gamblers from Washington state. None. Whether this is due to the lack of equestrian-breeding culture or the prohibition of gambling for a century in the state, Washingtonians just aren’t getting into big-time gambling.
If you can find something different or can make a suggestion here, let us know. Until then, we’ll just have to suppose that folks from Washington simply get off on on playing music, the Seahawks, um … eating apples and … yeah.
Due to the state’s continuing history with organized crime, laws dealing with gambling in Washington state are quite strong indeed. In fact, the charge for a resident playing poker or at online casinos was upgraded to a Class C felony in the mid-2000s, making this “crime” equivalent, as noted by the Seattle Post-Intelligencer when the law was passed in ’06, “to possessing child pornography, threatening the governor or torturing an animal.”)
However, since Washington law enforcement officials clearly have bigger fish to fry, no internet player has ever been charged under the law, but still.
As in the 2000s, when years of (presumed non-criminal, or at least more discreet) lobbying eventually led to expansion of the casino market in the state, current efforts appear to point the way to the future. The lobbying battles of 2010 are all about legalizing and regulating online poker. The Poker players Alliance, among other interest groups, has been appealing to state legislators for years on the subject, claiming that some 1.2 million Washingtonians might be interested in playing internet poker – and thus generating quite a lot of tax revenue.
In terms of casino gambling, it might be some time before cities such as Spokane and Tacoma get proper casino gaming within city limits, but the extant casinos are certainly safely entrenched and profitable.
And then there’s sports betting, still attracting organized crime rings and lots of illegal wagering running in the tens of millions every NFL season. Time will tell if the legislators in Washington ever wish to address this issue directly, but experimentation might be prudent at this point…