Washington D.C. Sports Betting Could Come By February 2019
You may be able to place a legal bet at Nationals Park by Major League Baseball’s next Opening Day.
Sports betting could be legalized in Washington D.C. by February 2019, according to city councilmember Jack Evans. The champion of a sports wagering legalization bill, Evans told Bloomberg the bill already has support from the majority of the council as well as Mayor Muriel Bowser.
If all goes according to plan, D.C. may be the eighth jurisdiction to take a legal bet. For now, there appears little opposition from local officials standing in the way.
The bill already has seven public supporters, enough to pass through the 13-member council. Bloomberg reported that of the six members of the 13-person council who haven’t come out publicly either way, none have voiced steadfast opposition. A public hearing scheduled for Oct. 13 could alter the conversation, but for now it seems unlikely this could derail momentum for the bill.
That’s assuming the federal government doesn’t intervene.
Bill’s Fate Depends on Congress
Washington D.C. is a federal district separate from the other 50 states. Though its local city government functions in much the same way as state governments, all local ordinances are subject to approval from Congress.
Historically, Congress has at times intervened in city functions and others time remained hands off, so it is hard to decipher the whims of federally-elected officials that often times have little relationship with the city beyond an office within the city limits.
Further complicating things is an upcoming midterm election where a third of the Senate and the entirety of the House of Representatives are up for election. The entire dynamic, and party control, of one or both houses could change starting next year.
Regardless, sports betting is sure to be a topic on Capitol Hill next year.
Several high-profile members of Congress have called for a congressional-level framework of sports betting legislation in the wake of the Supreme Court decision to strike down the federal ban. While the most ardent gambling opponents acknowledge it will be all but politically and legally impossible to reinstate a ban, leaders in both parties have sought federal standards for all 50 states as well as the District of Columbia.
Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch, a sponsor of the original federal ban, has said he’ll introduce legislation to install some sort of federal guidance on sports betting. Now left to the discretion of the states in the wake of the Supreme Court decision, Hatch has voiced concerns about regulations and eligibility, among other issues state legislatures have discussed in their respective sports betting legalization laws.
Hatch will retire from the Senate in January but Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer has indicated he wants to continue pushing for a federal framework. Meanwhile, members of the House of Representatives have also held hearings on the topic and may introduce legislation in that chamber as well.
How this will manifest itself is anybody’s guess.
Passing legislation through Congress is a difficult task in the best possible conditions. And, despite proposals, no concrete legislation has emerged in either house.
Meanwhile most gambling stakeholders and advocacy groups have lobbied against any federal intervention. Though the patchwork state-by-state process has not always progressed smoothly, most industry leaders believe it will ultimately be more efficient than a rigged federal structure.
In the meantime, D.C.’s local governing body has made it clear that it plans to continue pushing sports betting legalization forward. It will have plenty of help from its neighbors for motivation.
Mid-Atlantic Propels American Sports Betting
The Mid-Atlantic region has been the clear leader in sports betting legalization in the wake of the court’s decision.
Delaware, just a couple hours away from D.C., was the first state outside Nevada to take a legal sports bet. New Jersey, which led the multi-year legal battle to overturn the federal ban, was the third, putting another sports betting destination within a day trip of the nation’s capital.
West Virginia was also an early adaptor. Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races, located in the state’s eastern panhandle, brought sports betting even closer to D.C. when it took its first bet last month. Pennsylvania is also set to take its first legal wager before the end of the year.
There could be several more options even closer to the district.
Maryland seemed like it could be one of the first states to take a legal sports bet after its House of Representatives passed a sports betting bill earlier this year. That effort derailed in the state senate, but lawmakers from both houses indicated they are still interested in reviving the bill when lawmakers return to Annapolis next year.
Further south, Virginia has finally shown an inclination toward gambling expansion after years of opposition. A casino could be slated for the commonwealth for the first time ever and regional competition could further encourage lawmakers to consider opening a more robust gambling market.
With all the activity in the region, it’s no surprise D.C. city lawmakers have sought sports betting for the district. Though hurdles remain hammering out the bills details, as well as the uncertainty around a possible congressional intervention, the broad public support from councilmembers mean legal wagering is on pace to come to the district early next year.
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