New D.C. bill seeks to boost mobile sports betting competition

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A D.C. lawmaker wants to boost the city’s lackluster sports gambling operation through a bill that would overhaul the licensing system and create pathways for sports venues and teams to offer citywide mobile sports betting.

Announced Wednesday by D.C. Council member Kenyan R. McDuffie (I-At Large), the Sports Wagering Amendment Act of 2024 marks the latest attempt to stabilize D.C.’s sports gambling program following years of underperformance from GambetDC, the District’s lone citywide sports betting provider. McDuffie revealed at a January hearing that, following months of complaints related to the platform’s interface, odds and usability, GambetDC had brought the city just over $4.3 million since launching in 2020 — a far cry from the $84 million lawmakers had expected.

At the same hearing, Office of Lottery and Gaming Director Frank Suarez announced that his office was working with Intralot — the Greek company that in 2019 was awarded a five-year, no-bid contract by the D.C. Council to develop GambetDC — to find a more popular betting provider to replace the platform and immediately improve the city’s financial returns. Last week, as part of that plan, the lottery office announced that FanDuel would take over sometime this spring, with guarantees and projections to bring in much more revenue.

While the FanDuel solution could address immediate concerns with the GambetDC app, McDuffie said it still wouldn’t allow city gamblers to choose among platforms, as they can in many states. He said it could also hamper District businesses that have invested in on-site retail sportsbooks, including the city’s three “Class A” wagering facilities based at designated sports venues — FanDuel at Audi Field, Caesars Sportsbook at Capital One Arena and BetMGM at Nationals Park.

The sportsbooks at Capital One Arena and Nationals Park offer mobile platforms that are restricted to a two-block radius of the facility. If approved, McDuffie’s legislation would remove that geographical restriction for those big sportsbooks, allowing them to offer their mobile platforms citywide, with some exceptions. Perhaps more notably, the bill would also create a new type of mobile sports betting license available to sports teams that play at venues with an existing sportsbook; the Washington Nationals, Wizards, Capitals and Spirit and D.C. United would be immediately eligible, according to McDuffie’s office.

With that new license in hand and with approval from the lottery office, those teams could enter their own partnerships with mobile betting platforms of their choosing. McDuffie believes this new mobile license, which under his proposal would be more expensive and taxed at a higher rate than the two existing retail-based licenses, could rapidly boost the array of options for bettors.

His office says this special license would double as an incentive for D.C.’s sports teams to remain in the District and continue investing in the city, an important factor following Wizards and Capitals owner Ted Leonsis’s December announcement that he intends to move the teams from Capital One Arena to Northern Virginia. The legislation is much more complex than a 2022 bill introduced by several lawmakers that would have taken a more wholesale approach to increasing mobile options while terminating Intralot’s contract when it ended. That bill did not advance before the end of the council’s two-year legislative period.

But McDuffie said that proposal would have probably come at the expense of the city’s retail sportsbooks.

“Changing a broken system is more complicated, frankly, than starting up sports wagering from scratch,” McDuffie said. “But the general idea we need more competition in our city sports wagering program is something I support, and I think others will support as well. And it’s what our consumers have been demanding.”

The bill further revives an attempt to dedicate $300,000 in annual sports betting revenue toward efforts to prevent, treat and research gambling addiction, while putting $1 million each year into a new “Youth Extracurricular Investment Fund” to boost out-of-school programming.

McDuffie, who is introducing the bill alone and chairs the business committee, said he expects some of the particulars to be hashed out as the legislation moves through the council. On top of McDuffie’s bill, the council will soon need to consider whether to extend Intralot’s contract, which expires in mid-July.

At the January hearing, Suarez said his agency would probably seek to extend Intralot’s contract to give the FanDuel plan more time to work — a move McDuffie said he would not support.

Intralot’s plan to bring in FanDuel, McDuffie said, “fixes some of the obvious operational gaps with the GambetDC app, but it does so without addressing other important concerns like the broader competitive options for consumers. The [Office of Lottery and Gaming] waited years to take these types of steps despite what consumers and residents across the District of Columbia have said has been a broken program. I’m working toward a bill because the system and the program that they put in place simply doesn’t work.”

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