Legal D.C. Sports Betting on Horizon as Mayor Signs Bill
Washington, D.C. is on the brink of having legal sports betting, as Mayor Muriel Bowser signed a bill to authorize it on Thursday. It is not quite a done deal, though, as the District of Columbia’s process is unique in that for a bill to become an Act (made into law), it must be reviewed and approved by the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives. Depending on the type of bill, the review period is either 30 days or 60 days; in this case, it is the latter. If Congress disapproves, it can pen a joint resolution to stop the bill and if the President signs that, it’s back to the drawing board for D.C. If the review period comes and goes without any action, though, the bill becomes law. There is no reason to expect anything other than good news for D.C. sports betting enthusiasts in a couple months, but it is still a waiting game, nonetheless.
The District Council passed the sports betting bill, introduced by Council Member Jack Evans, by a vote of 11-2 in mid-December. D.C. is trying to beat Virginia and Maryland to the punch; Virginia just introduced a bill which would legalize casino gambling, which includes sports betting.
D.C. Sports Betting Unlike Any Other
With sports betting and online gambling, we are accustomed to seeing most states restrict their licensing to land-based casinos, or at least operators who partner with said casinos. As Washington, D.C. does not have casinos, the District is going with a different setup.
Sports betting licensing will be divided into two classes. Class A licenses will go to the professional sports venues in Washington, which include the Capital One Arena, home to the NBA’s Wizards and NHL’s Capitals, Nationals Park, home to baseball’s Nationals, St. Elizabeths East Entertainment and Sports Arena, home to the WNBA’s Mystics, and Audi Field, home to the MLS’s D.C. United.
For those wondering about the Washington Redskins of the NFL, while it is a “D.C.” team, its stadium, FedEx Field, is actually located in Landover, Maryland, about five miles east of the District.
These Class A licenses will cost $250,000 and will have a term of five years. In addition, each venue has a buffer zone of two blocks in which no other operators can offer sports betting. As you might figure (unless you envisioned stationary betting kiosks), mobile betting will be permitted at these venues.
Class B licenses are for all other eligible, approved operators and do not include buffer zones. These licenses also run for five years and cost $50,000. A shorter, two-year, $5,000 license is also an option.
Open Market or Not?
There is still an important detail up in the air, though: who will actually operate sports betting. It was assumed that open competition would rule the day, with various operators applying for licenses, but in early January, D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson introduced an amendment that would grant an exclusive contract to Intralot, the company which operates the D.C. lottery. Mendelson and other supporters of this option believe it will streamline the licensing process and let the District launch its sports betting industry more quickly. This is important because it will help D.C. get the jump on Virginia and Maryland.
Naturally, opponents of the single-provider plan worry that it would the lack of competition would limit innovation and give Intralot no incentive to improve its product.
In a memo to the Council, Mendelson wrote:
This emergency legislation is necessary to allow DC Lottery to obtain the technology platforms, lottery gaming systems, and related services to launch sports betting in the District in fiscal year 2019.
Without this emergency legislation, the Office of Chief Financial Officer will have to go through a prolonged procurement process that could delay the implementation of sports wagering in the District by as many as three years, foregoing revenue and eliminating the advantages of being an early adopter of legalized sports wagering.
Mendelson withdrew his request for a single operator, instead scheduling a public hearing to discuss it on Monday, January 28th at 10:00am.
NBC Sports Washington and Washington Wizards have already started playing around with in-game sports betting. This month, NBC Sports Washington Plus has tested out “Predict the Game,” which is a free-to-play wagering game in which the television broadcast of select Wizards games are overlaid with betting stats and prop bets. Viewers can play along on their mobile devices, choosing options on prop bets such as “Will Bradley Beal score 15 points or more in the first half?” as well as standard bets like over/under. Leader boards are shown during the game and though it is free-to-play, the winner nabs a $500 prize.