Last week, several Washington D.C. Council members questioned and criticized the operation of the District’s mobile sports betting app, GambetDC. Despite complaints from users and council members, GambetDC is still the most widely accessible legal sports betting platform in D.C.
It’s possible that could change, but there’s disagreement among D.C. Council members about the necessity of an immediate switch from GambetDC to a competitive market. The council is made up of a chairman and 12 members (four at-large members and one representative from each of the District’s eight wards), and not every member has gone on record with strong opinions about sports wagering. A handful, however, have recently expressed opinions on the state of betting in D.C.
Ready for change
Council member Elissa Silverman is among the voices critical of GambetDC. Silverman opposed the sole-source contract between the D.C. Lottery and Intralot a few years ago, and she’s only soured more on GambetDC and Intralot in recent months. An iOS app outage on Super Bowl Sunday didn’t help the cause.
“I think everyone agrees that our current approach is abysmal and embarrassing,” Silverman told Sports Handle in March. “It’s embarrassing to have your sports betting app fail on the biggest sports betting day of the year, which is the Super Bowl. It’s embarrassing.”
Council member Mary Cheh shared similar sentiments at last week’s discussion.
“We could have gone the other direction and allowed for competition in this area and then tax the profits made by competing betting app vendors, but the council was taken in by this idea that this was a special case where a sole-source contract had to be made,” Cheh said. “It’s time to admit that was wrong and to revisit the entire system.”
Another gigantic-bet sporting event the people of Washington D.C. couldn't bet online. And their hometown star ended up winning!
Caesars took more bets on the Home Run Derby than on the actual All-Star game itself, yet D.C.'s sole mobile operator @GambetDC didn't offer it.
— Sam McQuillan (@sam_mcquill) July 19, 2022
For Silverman, sports wagering isn’t at the top of her priority list. During her interview with Sports Handle, Silverman mentioned that her role chairing council’s labor committee focuses her attention elsewhere. And she’s not the only one to have other priorities ahead of sports wagering.
“If we didn’t have a pandemic, I have a feeling that sports betting would be more prominently on our legislative agenda,” Silverman said, “but because we’re dealing with so many other things right now, its severe underperformance hasn’t risen to like the urgent level, but it should.”
Lottery preaches patience
While Silverman and Cheh openly challenge GambetDC’s performance, the D.C. Lottery often pushes back against criticism.
“Our council people, I think that they’re going by the news, and I think everyone is anxious to have a microwave answer,” Nicole Jordan told Sports Handle in an April interview. “This is not a typical situation.”
Jordan acknowledged GambetDC’s issues, but she also cited the pandemic and geofencing restrictions as reasons the app hasn’t been as financially successful as originally predicted. She says that while GambetDC also has interface issues, changes are coming. GambetDC is expected to roll out interface upgrades at the end of the summer or in the fall.
Some consideration/discussion about the idea of giving additional operators (perhaps BetMGM, Caesars, FanDuel, etc.) access to the D.C. mobile sports betting market.
Unclear if that will happen, but plenty of people are displeased with Intralot/GambetDC’s performance. https://t.co/MwKeQoGjO7
— Bennett Conlin (@BennettConlin) July 13, 2022
That may help the user experience, a good sign for D.C. bettors. Lottery officials have made it clear at times that user experience isn’t always their top priority.
“We have this balance that we have to do which is between making sure that we are competitive for our customers, but making sure we’re returning the money back to the city,” Jordan said.
Chairman willing to wait
D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson wants to give GambetDC more time to improve.
“I think it’s too soon to tell,” Mendelson said during a Facebook Live Q&A session in April.
Mendelson isn’t pleased with some of GambetDC’s shortcomings, but he’s not ready to bail on the Intralot deal. Mendelson mentioned former D.C. Chief Financial Officer Jeffrey DeWitt’s recommendations during the process of legalizing sports wagering as a reason to wait longer to see if GambetDC can turn performance around. The chairman said he has great respect for DeWitt.
“The system not working on Super Bowl day was stupid,” Mendelson said, “but there are substantial private sector forces that are salivating over the market that the District has, and that makes me a little uneasy that we should give up so quickly on a recommendation from the former CFO and thereby benefit the private businesses.”
Mendelson recently won his primary for reelection this year, and he’s on track to earn another term as the council’s chair. Council members may need to sway Mendelson in order for a change to occur.
Some council members, like Kenyan McDuffie, have shared pointed criticism of GambetDC without going so far as calling for immediate change. McDuffie seemed interested last week in exploring other options. Could D.C. open the mobile sports betting market up to BetMGM, Caesars, and FanDuel, which already have retail sportsbooks in the District? It’s a possibility, but the council isn’t yet unified in any urgent desire to abandon GambetDC.