Bill to legalize sports betting in Washington, D.C. advances

December 19, 2018, 3:36 PM

 The District of Columbia on Tuesday advanced legislation to authorize sports betting in the nation's capital, including potentially at the homes of the professional sports franchises in Washington, D.C.

The Council of the District of Columbia approved The Sports Wagering Lottery Amendment Act of 2018 with a majority vote. The bill now heads to Washington, D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser for her signature and then for a 30-day review period by the U.S. Senate, where a draft of a federal sports betting bill is already being prepped for introduction.  

If approved, sports betting in Washington, D.C., would run primarily through the lottery and be available online.

The bill would establish two-block zones around Capital One Arena and Nationals Park, for example, where physical sportsbooks would be prohibited unless located at the stadiums. The Washington Wizards and Washington Capitals, owned by Ted Leonsis, are among the teams that play at Capital One Arena. Nationals Park is home to the Washington Nationals.

The exclusivity zones were among a series of suggestions pushed by a lobbying coalition made up of strange bedfellows. Major League Baseball, the NBA and PGA Tour teamed with gaming operators MGM, DraftKings and FanDuel to fight against the D.C. Lottery receiving the exclusive right to offer mobile sports betting. The coalition also requested that sportsbook operators be required to use official league data and pay a .25 percent fee to the professional leagues based on the amount wagered on the respective games. Their requests were not granted in the version of the bill that passed Tuesday.

The American Gaming Association (AGA), which represents the casino industry, said the legislation is a step in the right direction but has room for improvement.

"While the vote today is progress, we remain deeply concerned about giving the lottery a virtual monopoly in the mobile market," AGA senior vice president of government affairs Sara Slane said in a statement. "Predictably, this will result in less investment and innovation, to the detriment of consumers and the ability of a nascent legal marketplace to compete with the accessibility and convenience offered by many established illegal wagering operations."

Councilman Jack Evans, one of the co-sponsors of the bill, said prior to the vote that he expects changes to the legislation.

"We're venturing into new territory with sports gaming," Evans told the Council. "I'm really excited that the District will be out of the box with this ... and there will be changes as we go along."

The bill does not include any prohibition on betting on college sports. Athletes, coaches, referees, team owners and employees, sports governing bodies and players and referee union personnel would be prohibited from wagering.

In May, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992 (PASPA), a federal statute that had prohibited state-authorized sports betting in all but a handful of states, primarily Nevada. Since PASPA was invalidated, legal sportsbooks have opened in Delaware, Mississippi, New Jersey, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and West Virginia.

Research firm Eilers & Krejick Gaming projects a fully robust sports betting market in the District of Columbia could generate $36.8 million in annual gaming revenue.