Washington DC Moves a Step Closer to Legal Sports Betting

Washington DC has moved another step closer towards legalizing sports betting as its bill advances to the full council.

The City Council’s Committee on Finance and Revenue met on 28 November, its longest meeting of the year to date, where the main topic of discussion by members was a review of the bill.

The bill is pushing for a hybrid system, covering both offline and online sports betting in the region. The Office of Lottery would be in charge of the sports betting sector should it become legal.

The latest draft does not contain a clause on royalty fees for data.

The next step is for the bill to go to the full council during the legislative meeting on 4 December.

Background to the bill

In September, council member Jack Evans drafted the bill, which is known as the Sports Wagering Lottery Amendment Act of 2018.

The bill proposes a gross revenue tax of 10% on the wagers going to the state government. Evans has gotten a lot of support to date, particularly because the state as a whole and neighbouring states are still not operating their own sportsbooks.

Washington DC, therefore, could expect a lot of bettors coming from elsewhere to place their sports bets.

Evans said: “Sports betting is going to happen across the country, I would imagine in over 40 states. I want legalized sports betting in the District ahead of Virginia and Maryland, before their legislatures convene in January.”

There is a high level of support coming from the mayor, the chief financial officer and various council members.  A public forum was held on the issue following the bill’s introduction and the finance committee’s hearing was the first proper movement on the issue within the council.

Royalties rejected

 

The bill had originally included provision for a royalty fee that would compensate rights holders for use of their data and likeness.

This would in effect be the integrity fee that the NBA and MLB, in particular, have been pushing for some time. The fee would comprise a slice of every sports bet placed on one of their games.

However, no other state to date has included such a fee in its final sports betting bill as it would impact on the operator’s revenues too much. Now the idea has been also thrown out in Washington DC as the committee members were against it.

Potential considerations

The main issue left to thrash out within the legislation is how to implement the offerings. Would there be much competition and to what extent would the Office of Lottery’s role in the space be?

Currently, the draft bill proposes the lottery as being the main operator, but third parties would also be open to partnering with venues in the locality.

There is already some talk of these partnerships coming together, with the MGM group getting into a partnership with Nats Park. MGM is also said to be talking to Capital One Arena to strike a similar deal.

When might sports betting be seen?

The sports betting bill will now go to the full council. If they approve the bill following a second reading, the city mayor will then need to approve the bill.

As the mayor is already supporting this bill, there doesn’t seem to be any issue. Finally, the United States Congress will have to give it their stamp of approval before it becomes law.

All signs point towards sports betting being legal in Washington DC by the end of summer 2019. Some people envision that it could be ready to go even earlier, by February 2019.

If everything goes smoothly in the coming council meetings, then the aggressive implementation of the legislation is likely.

Currently, there are no casinos or similar facilities in the district. There is talk of sportsbooks being opened on site at sports stadiums, such as those for the Washington Capitals and Wizards teams.