Judge dismisses Maverick’s tribal gaming court challenge

Overhead view of Shoalwater Bay WA
Image: Shutterstock

The Shoalwater Bay Indian Reservation won the first round of the legal battle with Maverick Gaming. A Washington state judge has dismissed the case without prejudice. Maverick Gaming CEO Eric Persson told the Tri-City Herald he still plans to appeal the case all the way to the Supreme Court.

Maverick initially filed the lawsuit in early 2022 with the hopes of offering sports betting.

Maverick originally filed the case in Washington DC, but the courts transferred it back to Washington, where both the Shoalwater Bay Casino and Maverick card room facilities are located. Initially Shoalwater Bay was not a defendant on the case, but the tribe intervened to be involved in order to file a motion to dismiss. Maverick tried to argue the federal government would satisfactorily defend tribal interests because it would fight to uphold the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA).

Judge David Estudillo disagreed and wrote that the tribe’s and the government’s interests are not aligned. Estudillo also ruled that Shoalwater Bay’s tribal sovereignty prevented it from being named in the suit. Tribal sovereignty means the tribe cannot have US suits brought against it even though Shoalwater Bay intervened as a defendant in the case. With the bifurcated interests of tribes and the government and the inability to legally name a tribe as a defendant in the case, the case had no way of moving forward, so Estudillo dismissed it.

Estudillo also noted that the suit posed “a substantial risk” to tribal gaming interests and IGRA.

This is a significant victory for tribal sovereignty. Washington law strikes the right balance by permitting sports betting and confining it to tribal casinos, where tribes have experience carefully regulating gambling where individuals must be physically present,” said Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson in a release.

“The ruling today is a complete vindication of our assertion that Maverick Gaming has been attempting to undermine the sovereign rights of Indian tribes not just here in Washington State, but nationally as well. We appreciate that Judge Estudillo understood that and has now dismissed the case,” said Charlene Nelson, Chair of the Shoalwater Bay Tribe. “As we said at the time of our legal filing, it pained us to have to legally oppose a member of our tribe, but Maverick’s case, if successful, would have irreparably harmed historically marginalized tribal communities, and would have run counter to the will of the legislature and the general public.”

“This is an important legal victory,” said Rebecca George, Executive Director of the Washington Indian Gaming Association. “Maverick’s lawsuit was a direct attack on the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA), which over the last three decades has been a pathway for tribes to regain their self-reliance by generating revenue to lift tribal communities out of poverty and despair. It is also a strong ratification of the collaborative and productive relationship that Washington’s tribes have developed with state and federal officials to create a safe, limited, and well-regulated system of gaming in Washington State.”

Persson can appeal and indicates he will do so.