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State of the Union: US Sports Betting Update – Washington, D.C. Joins the Sports Betting Revolution

Sports betting is coming to the US capital after Washington, D.C. City Council voted 11-2 in favour of rolling out a regulated wagering industry. It comes seven months after the US Supreme Court met in the city and decided to strike down PASPA, the federal ban that outlawed sports wagering. Since then Delaware, New Jersey, Mississippi, West Virginia, New Mexico, Rhode Island and Pennsylvania have all joined Nevada in legalising sports betting. Now the District of Colombia wants a piece of the action and the first books are due to open in mid-2019.

Washington DC, City

This represents a massive opportunity for the sports wagering industry, as the District of Colombia has the second highest average income in the USA. The only state with a slightly higher average wage is Maryland, which is right next-door, and D.C. sportsbooks will naturally hope to attract Marylanders too. There are two more hurdles for the bill to clear, but it is looking increasingly like a formality. First it needs approval from the city’s mayor, Muriel Bowser, but she was involved in drafting it and is a huge supporter of sports betting so seems certain to rubber-stamp it.

Then it needs to pass a review in Congress, but Delaware, New Jersey, Mississippi, West Virginia, New Mexico, Rhode Island and Pennsylvania encountered no problems at that stage. The Democrats have just seized control of the lower house, and Washington, D.C. is a Democrat-dominated city, so that looks totally safe. Supporters hope bets will be taken across the city within months. The metro area has a population of 6.2 million and it is teeming with professional sports teams, so there should be a strong appetite for sports wagering among the wealthy populace.

Betting in a Sports Mad City

The Washington Redskins are a popular NFL franchise, and the Washington Wizards can count on star names like Jon Wall and Bradley Beal to light up the NBA court. Every major American city needs a baseball team and the Washington Nationals regularly play in front of more than 40,000 screaming fans in the packed Nationals Park. DC United are also one of the most exciting MLS teams at present after signing former England captain Wayne Rooney in a high-profile deal earlier this year. The legendary ex Man Utd and Everton striker banged in 12 goals and laid on seven assists in 20 games this year to drag his team off the bottom of the Eastern Conference table and into the playoffs, and big things are expected of them in 2019.

RFK Stadium, Washington DC

Finally, the Washington Capitals are the reigning NHL champions after vanquishing the Vegas Golden Knights in the Stanley Cup Finals. Washington will now be hoping to steal Las Vegas’ crown as the sports betting capital of the US. But while Vegas is teeming with casinos, there are none in Washington, D.C. That makes it the first jurisdiction in the country without casinos to legalise sports betting. Instead the D.C. Lottery will act as the city’s outlier and oversee the sports betting market there. It plans to sell five-years sportsbooks licences to arenas and stadiums for $250,000 apiece. It will also sell two-year retail licenses for sports betting for $5,000 and there are no limits to the number it will sell.

However, the American Gaming Association is uneasy about the city’s lottery enjoying such a dominant position. “While the vote today is progress, we remain deeply concerned about giving the lottery a virtual monopoly in the mobile market,” said Sara Slane, a vice president at the American Gaming Association. “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.”

Trials and Tribulations for the AGA

The AGA lobbied hard for sports betting to be introduced, but it now has its work cut out as it tries to secure a fair deal for its members. States currently manage their own sports betting industries, a practice that has worked for Nevada over many decades, and the AGA wants them to retain control. However, Republican Senator Orrin Hatch filed a draft bill earlier this month proposing that the federal government seizes back control of sports wagering in America. Charles Schumer, a Democrat representing New York, has now joined him in his efforts, and they filed a joint bill this week called The Sports Wagering Market Integrity Act of 2018. The AGA is distinctly unimpressed with this development.

“This bill is the epitome of a solution in search of a problem, representing an unprecedented and inappropriate expansion of federal involvement in the gaming industry, which is currently one of the most strictly regulated in the country,” said Slane. She has broad support from state representatives. Dina Titus, a US Congresswoman from Nevada, said: “This bill undermines Nevada’s expertise and experience in establishing a successful, regulated sports betting market. It would inject uncertainty into an established and regulated industry, weaken Nevada’s ability to promptly adapt to maintain its gold standard, and risk causing bettors and operators to leave the regulated market.”

Congress, Washington DC

She added that there is no need to reinvent the wheel or derail what is already working, and she promised that Nevada would lobby Congress and encourage it to dismiss this draft legislation. Ray Lesniak, who played a key role in rolling out sports betting in New Jersey, called it an unnecessary aggravation. But he was similarly combative, declaring that the Garden State “is not a pushover in anything” and that it would fight to overcome this latest obstacle.

A Battle the Industry Can Win

Hatch claims the legislation is the culmination of eight months of “high-level meetings”, but there is little support for it among representatives of either party. Hatch will have retired by the time the Democrats take over the House of Representatives in January, leaving Schumer alone and in a minority. Yet it will still require proactive lobbying from the AGA to kill it off, and the group has a new chief executive to lead the charge. Experienced lobbyist Bill Miller, a 13-year veteran of the US Chamber of Commerce, has just been announced as the trade body’s third chief executive since it was formed in 1995. He will bring political experience to the table and he is expected to emerge as a key figure in the fight against Schumer going forwards.

The nascent sports wagering industry was always going to be met with challenges, but it is currently thriving. New Jersey announced record revenues for November, and Delaware has just reported that sports wagering revenue grew 160% to £1.3 million during that month. Mississippi has also just announced that it has already raked in more than $1 million in taxes on sports betting since permitting it in August, while the first sportsbook in Pennsylvania has taken $1.4 million in bets in the first two weeks of operation. The industry is gaining serious momentum, and states are seeing their coffers boosted, so they are likely to fight tooth and nail alongside Miller and the AGA to retain control of their own destinies, and it looks like a battle they will win.


Author: Kristian

Kristian heads up the content and SEO team at Digital Fuel having worked in digital marketing for ten years. He’s as passionate about creative content as he is about Brighton & Hove Albion FC and when he’s not following football he’s writing about Brighton’s bustling pub scene

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