If drag-queen bingo is such a problem, how can state handle sports betting?

Mar 2, 2020

If the House’s sports-wagering bill receives approval by the Senate before the 2020 session ends, the legislation (House Bill 2638) would front the state Gambling Commission $6 million to get going right away with “enforcement actions in the illicit market for sports wagering.”

I take that to mean the agency intends to chase the bad folks out of town so the newly approved gambling operations don’t have to worry about competition once they get up and running. Almost sounds responsible, doesn’t it?

Then I read this column published Saturday in The Seattle Times about the Gambling Commission’s lengthy investigation into “Rainbow Bingo” happening at a senior center.

In this case, “lengthy” means…TWO YEARS. For bingo games hosted by a drag queen.

Yes, we have laws about gambling, and people should obey those laws, but this raises a bunch of questions.

What caused the Gambling Commission to target senior-center bingo? How could it take two years instead of two months? What did this probe cost the taxpayers? Would the agency have saved money if it had spent less time busting bingo games, so that $6 million request could have been smaller?

Here’s the better question, going forward: If it takes two years to investigate bingo games, which are about as simple as gambling gets, is the Gambling Commission truly ready to take on the regulation of something as sophisticated and high-tech as the casino-level sports gambling HB 2638 would allow?

That includes (to use the agency’s own words) gathering intelligence on global match-fixing and cybersecurity issues, monitoring intelligence sources for unusual player activity, and performing statistical analysis of player betting patterns. Those are on top of watching for bookmaking, money-laundering and black-market activities.

This is not about the merits of sports wagering in general or the specifics of the House legislation (which was just amended at my request by the Senate budget committee to prohibit wagering on minor-league sports). It’s about the fact that legalized betting on sports would be a big leap for our state – and if the Gambling Commission gets bogged down by drag-queen bingo, can the people trust the agency to handle such a huge new responsibility?