Washington D.C. gambling has not had a long or glorious history. The lottery aside, the nation’s capital has been one of the few jurisdictions in the country that doesn’t feature a brick-and-mortar gaming facility like casino or race track, even as approximately 1,000 such facilities have opened across America in the past few decades.
Smaller in size than any of the 50 states and subject to oversight from a federal government that has historically had a tepid relationship with gambling at best, D.C. is uniquely ill-equipped to become a competitive gaming market. When D.C. officials have pushed gambling, these moves have seemed to come with accusations of indecisiveness, impropriety or some combination of both, as exemplified by sports betting.
But this reputation has begun to change in the District, in part due to actions outside its borders. The MGM has collected millions of dollars from D.C. residents, money city officials hope to recoup in part through sports betting.
This has upped the proverbial ante to offer competing interests, and some day may compel councilmembers to once again take up the mothballed online gambling proposals.
This could spark further growth in one of the nation’s last remaining gambling deserts with impacts far beyond its borders.
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Social Casino Offers Only Available
Washington D.C. has no legal online casino options. Though it was technically the first jurisdiction in the country to approve real-money online casino games, elected officials repealed this authorization less than a year later. These games remain illegal now and for the foreseeable future.
The D.C. Council approved online casino games in 2011, but these same officials reversed their decisions over public outcry that the authorization measure wasn’t properly vetted. Though councilmembers said they would revisit the issue back in 2012, there have been few concerted pushes to do so.
The comparatively easy passage of online sports betting has reinvigorated online casino player’s hopes that these games may soon return to the District. In the meantime, residents can cross the Maryland state line and enjoy a full repertoire of casino games at MGM National Harbor.
Social casinos are available, though, both on the internet or as an app and feature all the popular casino games, including slots, blackjack, video poker and roulette. It is free to play. While you cannot win money playing games at social casinos, the sites like WinStar, LuckyLand and Chumba casino typically offer sweepstakes (games of chance) with prizes that can include real money jackpots.
Daily Fantasy games are legal in Washington D.C. Top DFS sites such as FanDuel and DraftKings are operational, meaning players can set up lineups for their favorite sports from the comfort of home or work.
These games are also available in Virginia and Maryland, so commuters don’t have to worry about legality issues when crossing state lines. Sports betting, online casino gaming and internet-based poker have all been sources of frustrations for would-be bettors throughout the DMV, but they can at least take solace in the (comparatively) straightforward availability of daily fantasy sports games.
There are no legal online poker sites in Washington D.C. Much like online casino games, these real-money poker games have failed to gain much legislative traction in the District recently, creating a prohibition that is likely to stand for a while longer.
D.C. began a push for multiple online gambling options shortly after the federal government banned internet poker games in April 15, 2011 on what became known in the industry as “Black Friday.” While these games were banned under federal statutes, individual states were given leeway to pass bills of their own. Five states subsequently did so, and it appeared D.C. would as well. But the change of heart toward online casino gambling in 2012 extinguished momentum for poker as well.
With real-money online poker still not legal, Washingtonians will have to visit either the MGM or drive a few hours to one of a handful of additional casinos with poker in Maryland, West Virginia or Delaware.
Waiting on Offers
Sports betting is legal in Washington D.C. When District residents can begin placing bets is less clear.
The D.C. City Council was one of the nation’s first legislative bodies to approve sports betting. With only 13 members in its legislature, as compared to the hundred (or more) in the 50 states, councilmembers could quickly advance a mobile sports wagering bill after the Supreme Court struck down the federal ban in May 2018. Mayor Muriel Bowser also supported the proposal, and it was ratified early in 2019.
It seemed D.C. residents and visitors would be able to place a bet before the start of the Washington Redskins 2019 season. Instead, the District will likely go the entire football season without legal betting -- and the timeline remains undefined for 2020. Follow Gambling.com for all the breaking details in the ongoing journey of legal sports betting in the nation’s capital.
The suspended rollout is partially because the council approved a controversial no-bid operating contract for sports betting that drew outcry from District watchdogs and gaming industry officials. This led to a prolonged review process that further stalled implementation for legal wagering in D.C.
Once operational, D.C. could become the first jurisdiction in the nation to take sports bets without any traditional brick-and-mortar gaming establishments. The city doesn’t have any casinos or horse tracks, so mobile and online wagering will be overseen and operated by the D.C. Lottery.
The lottery will almost assuredly take the bulk of the city’s sports betting dollars. Awarded a de facto monopoly by the council, the government-run lottery will have the only mobile app available across the District. Shutting out other full-scale competitors has further angered gaming industry stakeholders who fear the lack of competition will bolster the lottery at the expense of bettors.
That doesn’t mean the pending D.C. Lottery-run sports betting app will be the only game in town. Large sporting venues such as Capital One Arena, home to the Washington Wizards and Capitals, can operate sportsbooks within their facilities. Individual bars and restaurants can also apply to take sports bets, and several have done so.
D.C. sports betting is coming with a variety of options. What that market will look like, and when it begins, remains to be seen.
Sports gambling is formally legalized, but controversy over the no-bid contract for the city lottery’s vending partner delays the District from taking its first bet, likely until the beginning of 2020.
The City Council introduces a sports betting legalization bill. The proposal makes the city-run lottery the sole District-wide operator, with limited exemptions for sports venues as well as licensed bars and restaurants.
A groundbreaking proposal to allow real-money online casino gaming is repealed by councilmembers. The Council is accused of improperly pushing the games without proper oversight or vetting.
Washington D.C. becomes the first jurisdiction in the nation to approve online casino games. Officials say they’ll implement the games despite a federal crackdown of internet poker earlier in the year.
D.C. becomes one of the early adopters of a government-run lottery. Given greater political autonomy just a few decades earlier, city officials launch the first major gambling entity in District history.
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