Sports Betting Coming To Washington D.C. In Controversial Fashion

washington dc capital one arena
(USA Today Sports Images)

The Washington D.C. Council on Tuesday voted 8-4 in favor of using its existing lottery vendor to also run the city’s forthcoming legal online sportsbook.

The Council previously voted to legalize sports wagering in the District in a piece of legislation that will allow the major pro sports teams to open sportsbooks inside their arenas, and offer mobile sportsbooks with their own partners.

But separate from that for D.C. residents and comers-and-goers from neighboring Maryland and Virginia, the DC Lottery-run mobile sportsbook will be the only legal sports betting option in town — separate from those in-arena offerings and possibly at certain businesses/restaurants located outside some “exclusivity zones.”

What’s the problem with DC sports betting ?

The whole process was very controversial and ultimately the Council voted to bypass a bidding process and award the existing vendor, Intralot, the contract for sports betting (and the lottery in general). The city commissioned a dubious study that promised a seemingly unattainable amount of revenue from sports betting.  At whose expense? It would have to be the bettors’. We shall see what kind of mobile sportsbook the lottery puts out, but this online sportsbook available throughout the city will face (1) no competition and will (2) attempt to deliver on a silly amount of revenue for the city.

Via Sports Handle:

At-Large Council Member David Grosso added to his list of reasons why Intralot should not be granted the contract, saying that the company had recently made significant contributions to Council member campaign funds, and that he doesn’t view either the legalization of sports betting or the awarding of a contract as an emergency.

At-Large Council Member David Grosso added to his list of reasons why Intralot should not be granted the contract, saying that the company had recently made significant contributions to Council member campaign funds, and that he doesn’t view either the legalization of sports betting or the awarding of a contract as an emergency.

“I will vote against this,” Grosso added. “It is not an emergency. It is a giveaway.”

Nevertheless, the faux-emergency ruled the day, and in around six months or so, we’ll see what sportsbook hits the market. Given points 1 and 2 above, we don’t expect it’s something that will incentivize folks using black market sportsbooks to migrate over.

One saving grace is that the bill legalizing sports wagering does include language that would allow the Council to break the monopoly and invite commercial competition, should it become apparent that having a single vendor is not the best way for the city to capitalize on sports betting. But given how the process went down here in the first place, we don’t see that happening, either.

What may ultimately force a course change is if Virginia advances one of its active sports betting bills, and gains traction from D.C., Virginia and Maryland residents and overall demonstrates that market competition is good, healthy, inspires innovation and ultimately is more profitable for the state.

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