Two months after the D.C. Lottery rolled out its proposed sports betting regulations, it’s clear that those regulations need some massaging. The public comment period closed on July 15, and a review of the comments, obtained via a Freedom of Information Act request by Sports Handle, shows that potential operators have critical concerns about the two-block exclusion area, who will set minimum and maximum bet limits, and a bevy of other issues.
Eight stakeholders, including DraftKings, MGM, Monumental Sports & Entertainment, William Hill and the Washington Nationals replied with 95 pages worth of comments.95 pages worth of comments
Monumental Sports is owned by D.C.-area billionaire Ted Leonsis. Monumental Sports owns the NHL Washington Capitals, NBA Washington Wizards and Capital One Arena, among other sports investments in the D.C. area. MGM is the “official sports betting partner” of the NHL and MLB, and will most certainly be involved with the sportsbooks at Nationals Park and Capital One Arena, while William Hill is also an NHL sports betting partner.
BOOOOO – The mobile sports betting app, which city officials expect to be the most popular way to place a wager on a game, is not scheduled to launch until January. https://t.co/C18C9LgKjJ
— Dom Liberatore (@YeaDOM18) August 9, 2019
Prior to the comments being released, an Office of the Lottery and Charitable Games spokesperson told Sports Handle that the comments would be reviewed and potentially incorporated into the permanent rules. With the news last week that D.C. would not hit its fall 2019 target date to launch sports betting, it’s clear the concerns laid out by stakeholders are part of the hold up.
“I don’t know how long . . . that will throw off the launch,” Beth Bresnahan, executive director of D.C. Lottery told the Washington Post. “But it’s important to know that we want to ensure we are responding to comments and concerns.”
According to the story, the Lottery won’t even begin accepting sports betting license applications until September, and the Lottery’s mobile app likely won’t launch until 2020.
Key concerns: exclusion zone, bet limits
With all that in mind, here’s a review of some of the key issues raised through public comment:
What, exactly is the “two-block exclusion zone?” When the D.C. Council legalized sports betting, it included an exclusion zone around professional sports venues, which can have sports betting within their confines. According to the law, for example, there could be no sports betting offered within two blocks of Nationals Park by anyone other than the Nationals operator.
But MGM, Monumental Sports & Entertainment and the Nationals all requested a definition of what that area will be and whether the exclusion zone applies to physical sportsbooks only or online/mobile books, as well. Defining the zone is a key part of D.C.’s ability to launch, as the area will have to be properly geofenced to allow certain apps to work while prohibiting others.
MGM asked for a clarification of how exactly the exclusion zone would be defined while Monumental seeks to clarify that online/mobile for Class A (the pro venues) licensees will be allowed in that area. “The proposed regulations should expressly permit Class A operators to offer online and mobile sports betting within the two-block radius around their designated facilities,” Monumental Sports & Entertainment Executive Vice President and General Counsel Abigail Blomstrom wrote. The Nationals included a map — which is an irregular shape — that could define the two-block exclusion area and requested that the Lottery “include specific zones for each sports wagering facilities or language that precisely defines how “two blocks’ will be defined.”
Major League Soccer team D.C. United also weighed in on the exclusion-zone discussion. The team requests “clarification” of the exclusion zone to ensure that it does not “overlap with … another Class-A license,” but also requests that “Class-B license(s) will not be granted within the two-block radius of a Class-A license holder.”
— Kelyn Soong (@KelynSoong) August 12, 2019
In addition, while the big operators appear interested in defining the zone for mobile apps, smaller potential licensees, such as bars, restaurants or convenience stores, will want to know if they are in or out of the zone before considering investing in sports betting.
Is the Lottery really going to set the minimum and maximum bets allowed? Both Monumental and William Hill take issue with the regulations allowing the Lottery to set minimum and maximum bet thresholds. It’s not usual for the regulating body to set limits — in fact, Monumental points out that Nevada, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania don’t impose such limits, and that while New Jersey does, it’s a $5-mm maximum. Monumental requests that the Lottery allow operators to set their own limits, but offered a New Jersey-style maximum as a compromise. William Hill General Counsel Sylvia Tiscareno was a bit more direct: “Such limits should not apply to Licensees of Class A and B facilities, as such Licensees are in the best position to determine their own wager limits.”
How accurate can geofencing really be? Both the Monumental and the Nationals requested clarification on geofencing accuracy. D.C. is going to be a tricky spot for geofencing, as the city has a plethora of federal buildings and land, where sports betting will be prohibited, and the new law calls not only for the exclusion zone, but also gives the Lottery a monopoly on mobile sports betting outside of stadiums. That said, if a local bar or tavern wants to invest in a mobile app or partner with same, it can offer “on-site” mobile sports betting — i.e. you can use the app while you’re in the tavern, but not on the street. Monumental is calling for a 10-meter buffer zone, if you will, of accuracy while the Nationals just want clarification. According geofencing vendor GeoComply, there are multiple kinds and layers of geofencing — from Bluetooth technology used in buildings and smaller spaces to smartphone technology. With Bluetooth technology, geofencing can be accurate to within meters, but with smartphone technology (used primarily around the borders of a state) that accuracy is more like miles.
Nats want data mandate in D.C.
Among the other issues that were noted in the comments, the Nationals requested that the Lottery mandate the use of official league data and William Hill asked for the college carve out to be removed, while DraftKings provided 17 pages of comments, in large part focused on clarifying the wording of the regulations. DraftKings suggested changing “calendar days” to “business days,” removing the word “immediately” with regard to reporting violations to “promptly,” and asking that in the definition of an amateur sporting event, the word “majority” be added in describing participants who are 18 or older, in order to minimize confusion with relation to Olympic event. DraftKings spent considerable time picking apart the language used in all the license requirements, auditing and management sections.
Among D.C. United’s eight pages of comments, the team covered everything from accounting to surveillance to mobile and technology, addressing each subject with list of comments.
Besides comments from key players, a neighborhood group and the consumer advocacy group Sports Fans Coalition, also weighed in. Sports Fans commended the District of Columbia for having the most “comprehensive consumer protections” it’s seen.
Comprehensive? Maybe. But from the concerns raised by stakeholders, D.C.’s regulations clearly need to be reworked before legal sports betting can launch.