Washington D.C. Council Introduces Sports Betting Bill
The nation’s capital could prove the next frontier for American sports betting.
D.C. Council member Jack Evans proposed a bill for legalized sports betting in the district earlier this week, a key first step for another potential gambling market. Evans’ bill already has support from a majority of the 13-person council. Chairman Phil Mendelson is among the backers, according to the Washington Post.
“We are going to see — state after state will amend their laws to support sports gambling. It’s clear that residents have long accepted . . . gambling of the nature like the lottery and Internet sports gambling as acceptable, so it’s important to amend the law to reflect the Supreme Court’s actions.”
The district., like the 50 U.S. states, was allowed to pass sports betting laws after the Supreme Court struck down a federal ban earlier this year. It could quickly join Nevada, Delaware, New Jersey, West Virginia and Mississippi among a growing list of states taking wagers.
Good Odds for D.C. Sports Betting
Evans’ bill proposes one of the most robust potentials for any sports betting markets. It avoids many of the pitfalls that have snarled and hindered implementation in other states.
That includes mobile betting access, which is all but essential in a city with no casinos or similar gambling centers. The current bill would only allow the DC Lottery to offer these online mobile bets. Any other operator would only be able to take bets in-person from within licensed facilities.
Still, with even one source of ubiquitous access within the city limits it will drastically expands the pool of potential bettors who can place a wager with a click of a button from their home instead of in person at a casino. New Jersey and Nevada are the only two states taking online bets now, which has allowed them to vastly expand their outreach over states that don’t.
The bill also gives no mention of what sports leagues call “integrity fees.” The leagues argued that portions of gambling profits needed to be reallocated to their organizations as ways to protect the games from corruption.
This was refuted by most lawmakers and gambling stakeholders across the country, who saw the fees as both unnecessary and as threats to their own revenue potentials. It’s been a point of contention in other legislative bodies but doesn’t appear to pose an issue for the council.
Perhaps most significantly, It also calls for a tax rate of 10 percent of gross revenue each month, which puts it in line with most other states taking bets. Inordinate fees have delayed and in some cases crippled sports betting markets in other states.
Pennsylvania technically legalized sports betting nearly a year ago but exorbitant fees of more than 33 percent scared off most potential betting partners. Rhode Island, which is hoping to take it first bet later this year, also deterred gaming operators with fees exceeding 50 percent.
Without any of these stumbling blocks, D.C. is well positioned to adopt sports betting quickly.
The city, while not a part of any state, has a council which functions like most other state legislatures. Unlike state legislatures, all council decisions are constitutionally subject to congressional approval, which has historically vacillated between laissez-faire approval and overt intervention.
Though the current Congress has shown an interest in a federal regulatory framework, the Supreme Court decision has all but eliminated any prospect of a new federal ban across the 50 states. That means Congress will likely not attempt to reinstitute one over the district.
Congress also appears unlikely to overrule the council’s bill in part due to some high-profile public supporters, including Washington Wizards, Capitals and Mystics owner Ted Leonsis. He has been an outspoken proponent and envisions sports betting as part of the gameday experience at D.C.’s Capital One Arena, which hosts his teams’ home games, and in other cities across the country.
Supporters also include the mayor. Bowser’s Chief of Staff John Falcicchio endorsed the proposal in a statement.
“The Mayor supports Councilmember Evans’ efforts to make sports betting a viable revenue source for our growing needs. Sports betting can help us fund critical programs, create jobs for District residents and allow visitors and commuters to further participate in our economy.”
These benefits further explain sports betting’s appeal across the region.
Sports Betting Expands Along East Coast
Spearheaded by New Jersey’s efforts to overturn the federal ban, the Mid-Atlantic has proven the catalyst for U.S. sports betting. New Jersey, Delaware and West Virginia could be joined shortly by Pennsylvania and New York. Both states have legal sports betting bills on their books and, after finalizing regulatory approval, could take bets within the next year.
That’s in part why D.C. seeks to take wagers of their own - quickly. Charles Town Race Track, less than two hours from the district, took its first bet earlier this month. Combined with three casinos in Delaware, sports betting expansion is closing in around Washington.
Developments in two other states could prove even more consequential.
Maryland’s House of Representatives approved a sports betting bill earlier this year though it didn’t pass through the legislature. With two, and possibly three, of Maryland’s geographic neighbors possibly taking wagers by the time lawmakers reconvene next year, it could encourage lawmakers in Annapolis to push the sports betting bill across the finish line. That could also be a huge boost for MGM National Harbor, which is strategically located just across the district line in Prince George County.
To the south, Virginia’s gambling network has started to emerge. The state could soon see the reintroduction of pari-mutuel horse racing as well as its first-ever casino. For the first time in decades, state officials including Gov. Ralph Northam have publicly embraced gambling expansion, which could also incorporate sports betting legalization as well.
In an optimal scenario, sports betting could be legal in a contiguous string of at least six states in the most densely populated region in the country by the end of next year. With many of those states bordering or with a short drive of D.C., it’s no surprise city officials are aggressively pitching a sports betting bill of their own.
This story was updated Sept. 25. to clarify the availability of online betting
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