Washington state cardrooms’ max bet increased to $400 by regulators
The wager limit was increased by $100 to $400 following a 3-2 vote by commissioners, the first increase in 14 years.
Maverick Gaming filed a petition for the increase to $500 last summer to deal with an increase in operational costs brought on by inflation and to help level the playing field for cardrooms competing with tribal casinos where the wager limit is higher. Its demand was the focus of protracted discussions and open hearings before being reduced to $400.
“Today’s vote is evidence of the professional engagement of our entire team with our regulators,” Maverick Gaming CEO Eric Persson said following the decision. The company owns 23 of the 38 house-banked cardrooms in Washington.
The federally recognized tribes of Washington, whose casinos can accept bets of $500 and more, strenuously opposed the proposal. They said it broke a state rule that stipulated "social card games" could only be used to boost sales of alcoholic and nonalcoholic beverages.
They highlighted a nearly 50-year-old clause that permits social card games as a "commercial stimulant" for enterprises "primarily engaged in the sale of food or drink for consumption on the premises." Even now, those words can still be found in the statutes.
When house-banked cardrooms were made legal in 1997, the maximum bet was $25. Since the most recent increase, to $300, in 2009, the cap has been increased three times.
Two longtime adversaries in the gaming scene of Washington squared off in this petition.
Maverick, a force in the market that recently acquired its 23rd cardroom mini-casino, is expanding. It made a valiant effort—but failed—to persuade lawmakers to allow sports betting in cardrooms. It is only now permitted in indigenous casinos. The state's sports betting agreements with the tribes are currently being contested by the corporation in federal court.
According to commission records, Persson previously told commissioners, “I have a pretty big investment in the state, have a pretty big investment in cardrooms, and we’re trying to figure out how do we make it be vibrant. “We don’t have sports betting. It already hurts our business on the weekends, but what can we do? At the end of the day, all we’re trying to do is compete.”
In a letter presented in advance of the hearing, the Washington Indian Gaming Association drew attention to the fact that despite numerous revisions over the years, the "commercial stimulant" language has remained in the state's gambling act.
“If anything, the smaller ‘mom and pop’ establishments have been squeezed from the market as the remaining operators consolidate, acquire market share from these smaller establishments, and brand themselves as ‘casinos.’ This seems a far cry from the Legislature’s original intent,” the association's letter, dated June 29, 2023, states.
At the hearing, several cardroom staff members gave testimony about how they didn't anticipate many players to gamble the maximum. Some business owners stated that selling food and beverages remains their main source of income.
This is a challenging choice. It's quite polarizing. The motion to approve the amendment was made by Commissioner Julia Patterson, who believes that both sides' reasons are strong.
Patterson and Sizemore admitted the commission had not kept track of the proportion of revenues from food and drink against playing cards in the authorized cardrooms. But it does ensure that they continue to sell those goods.
Sizemore stated, “The argument is, certainly, that if we screwed up all along, then we’re screwing up now. I think it’s very compelling that the Legislature intended for these neighborhood casinos to exist. I believe we have the rationale and legislative authority to make the decision.”
Thirty-one days after the new regulation is submitted to the code revisionist, the higher limit will become effective.
“Washington deals cardrooms a win, allowing for larger bets” , Jerry Cornfield, Washington State Standard, columbian.com, July 25, 2023.