Online Gambling in Washington State Guide

Washington State is one of the more welcoming states for gambling - unless you like to gamble online. While there are many forms of legal gambling in Washington State, almost all forms of online gambling are explicitly illegal. There are harsh penalties for online gambling in Washington State, and the state has shown resistance to change. Let's look at Washington State gambling laws and whether we can realistically expect online gambling in Washington State to become legal in the future.

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Legal Online Gambling in Washington State

Depending on which form of gambling you enjoy, Washington State is either one of the most liberal states or one of the most restrictive. If you enjoy live gambling, you will find plenty of options for gambling. However, the state is strictly anti-online gambling.

Chapter 9.46 of the Revised Code of Washington (RCW) outlines all of the legal aspects of online gambling. The state has both legal Indian Casinos and Card Rooms. The difference between a card club and a poker room is that card clubs can only offer live poker and house-banked casino games, such as blackjack.

Sports betting is illegal in Washington State, except when done at Indian casinos. The state also has several other forms of legal live gambling that include bingo and a state lottery.

Where players have numerous options for live gambling, online gambling in Washington State is almost entirely illegal. Unlike many states that only prosecute gambling companies, Washington State may prosecute players. Anyone who knowingly transmits or receives gambling information by any means can be charged with a Class C felony. Class C felonies are punishable by up to five years in jail and/or a fine of up to $10,000.

While Washington State has the ability to prosecute players for online gambling, the state does not appear to be actively doing so. Instead, they focus on illegal gambling operations. However, we urge caution for our Washington State readers who want to gamble online.

Legal gambling in Washington State is open to all players 18 or older. If an organization serves alcohol, it can legally raise the gambling age to 21.

Forms of Legal Gambling in Washington State

Washington State has numerous live gambling options and at least two online gambling options. Let's take a look at them.

  • Indian Casinos - There are presently 35 Indian casinos in Washington State. The US Department of the Interior regulates these casinos. Tribal casinos are the only entities allowed to offer slot machines, video poker, or other non-house-banked casino games.
  • Card Rooms - There are 44 card rooms throughout Washington State. These facilities only house live poker games and house-banked casino games, such as Blackjack.
  • Lottery - Washington State legalized the lottery in 1982 and offers a wide variety of scratch games and draw games. The state also participated in multi-state draws, such as Powerball and Mega Millions. Players can only play the lottery live; it is not available online.
  • Horse Racing - Horse racing has been legal in Washington State since 1933. Both racetrack and off-track betting is available.
  • Workplace Gambling - Workplace gambling was legalized in 1973 but is limited to “sports wagering.” The rules basically allow for an office pool worth up to $100 and must be divided into 100 squares. Office fantasy sports, bracket pools, or other forms of sports pools are still illegal.
  • Bingo - Bingo was legalized in 1963. Charitable bingo games are legal without a license for up to twice a year. Otherwise, organizations must hold a license from the state to operate bingo games.
  • Raffles and Amusement Games - Raffles and amusement games are also legal on a limited basis. Again, organizations can only hold them up to twice a year, and there are very stringent requirements for holding these contests.
  • Sports Betting - Sports betting became legal in Washington State in 2021, but it is only offered at Tribal casinos.

Forms of Online Gambling Allowed

There are only two forms of legal online gambling in Washington State:

  • Horse Racing - This is the only statewide legal option for online gambling in Washington State. Players can bet at online racebooks for local, national, and international horse races.
  • Sports Betting - Online sports betting is allowed in Washington State, but only if you are physically located inside an Indian Casino. It is considered an extension of the live sportsbook. However, once outside the casino, it is illegal to bet on sports online.

Professional Gambling in Washington State

Some people classify themselves as professional gamblers, and it is crucial to know the laws of Washington State. Professional gambling is illegal in the state, and penalties can range from a gross misdemeanor to a Class B Felony.

Professional gambling is defined as participating in activities other than playing in a game. This can include the following:

  • Paying money to participate in games
  • Taking money to play in games
  • Receiving property in exchange for playing games
  • Allowing games to be played besides legal games

For example, if you sit down to play a hand of poker and decide to do prop betting at the table, this is illegal and constitutes professional gambling. If you receive money from a casino to play, this is considered professional gambling. If online gambling in Washington were permitted, rakeback would make you a professional gambler.

If you are a professional gambler by trade, you need to be very careful in Washington State. If you plan to gamble, only do so as a player. Do not participate in prop bets, last longer bets, or anything not explicitly authorized by the casino and law.

History of Legal Gambling in Washington State

Gambling laws in Washington State date back to its original state constitution. When the state constitution was drafted in 1889, it prohibited lotteries. Since then, Washington State has been one of the most legislatively active states regarding gambling. Let's take a look at some of the important dates in its history:

  • 1933 - The State Legislature authorizes betting on horse races.
  • November 7, 1972 - Voters approve SJR 5, a measure that removed restrictions on gambling. Gambling changes can now be made either by a supermajority vote by the Legislature or by ballot measures.
  • 1973 - The Washington State Gambling Commission is formed. Bingo, raffles, amusements games, and social card games for nonprofit and charitable organizations are also legalized. 
  • 1974 - The Legislature legalizes card rooms.
  • 1977 - Fundraising events are now legal.
  • 1982 - The State Legislature approves a state lottery.
  • 1987 - Off-track betting, or OTC betting, is now legal.
  • 1988 - The United States Congress passes the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA). This makes Indian casinos legal.
  • 1992 - The first Indian casinos open. 
  • 1997 - The Legislature legalizes house-banked card rooms.
  • 2002 - Washington joins the Big Game along with nine other states. This forms the first multi-state lottery game.
  • 2006 - The State Legislature passes laws to make online gambling in Washington State illegal.
  • March 25, 2021 - HB 2638 was officially signed into law. This gives Indian casinos the ability to offer sports betting.

Future Changes to Gambling Regulations in Washington State

While we wish we had great news for online gambling in Washington, the reality is that there is little happening to champion gambling legislation. The most recent changes to gambling laws in the state came when sports betting was legalized in 2021. Presently, sports betting is only legal at tribal casinos.

The passage of HB 2638 has effectively created a monopoly in the state, and one organization is looking to fight this. Maverick Gaming is presently suing the US Department of the Interior in an attempt to open sports betting to other entities in the state.

Maverick Gaming operates 19 of the legal cardrooms in the state. They want to be able to offer sports betting and are suing for the right. Should the case become successful, it could mark the first steps to expanding online gambling in Washington State. It would certainly open up the number of on-site locations where players could legally bet on sports, but it would likely force the tribes to explore other gambling options.

Presently, only Indian casinos can offer slot games and other forms of non-banked casino games. As such, any movement toward online gambling in Washington State would start with the tribes. If the tribes were to start pushing, we would likely see efforts move forward.

Another possibility is that Tribes could organically move towards online gambling to supplement their casinos. New Jersey has proven that online casinos can bolster profits for live casinos. In fact, online gambling helped Atlantic City to recover after multiple years of sliding revenues. Indian casinos could use online gambling in Washington State to bolster their profits.

What about the State Legislature? Unfortunately, the Legislature has been largely resistant to gambling regulation. For example, bills to legalize online poker and gambling have failed in both 2015 and 2016. Since then, we haven’t seen a serious move to legalize online gambling.

One factor that may change the minds of lawmakers is an economic recession. The United States looks to be headed toward a recession, and some say it may be the worst recession we've experienced since the Dot Com bubble burst. Washington State legalized the state lottery as a response to a recession, so, realistically, lawmakers could look at regulating online gambling in Washington State to combat recessionary issues.

How You Can Help Online Gambling in Washington State

If you want online gambling in Washington State, you need to make your voice heard. The state lottery was launched after the public voted in measures for legalizing it. This was not an overnight process and came after long periods of demand from players. The same is true for online gambling in Washington State.

If you want online gambling in Washington State, you need to tell lawmakers. Start by sending letters and making phone calls to your State Representatives and Senators. Then, move forward by starting petitions of fellow citizens that support online gambling. Start Twitter campaigns, Facebook groups, and any other form of social media engagement you can think of.

The more people who speak out on this matter, the more lawmakers will notice. Again, this is not a process that will happen overnight, but if enough support is garnered, at some point, lawmakers will have no choice but to listen to their constituents and make online gambling in Washington State a reality.

Online Gambling Washington State FAQ

Can you bet on games in Washington State?

You can bet on games in Washington State; however, you are very limited in how you can. Sports betting is available, both live and online, but only at Native casinos. Casino games are only available at Native casinos and card rooms, and cannot be played online, even at these locations.

Is Bovada legal in Washington State?

Bovada is legal in Washington State, but it is highly conditional. First, only the sports book portion of the service is legal, meaning online casino players are out of luck. Secondly, it is only legal when it is accessed from a retail location, such as a Native Casino. Outside of retail locations, it is not legal to use Bovada.

Why is online gambling illegal in Washington State?

Online gambling is illegal in Washington State as a result of laws passed by the state legislature in 2006. Unlike most other states, online gambling in Washington State is specifically illegal, stated to be a Class C felony in section 9.46.240 of the Revised Code of Washington. The only form of online gambling that is legal across Washington State is horse race betting.