Washington, D.C.’s sports betting system finds itself caught in yet another controversy.
The latest issue comes after Axios and Washington City Paper both reported recently that former Intralot CEO Byron Boothe was displeased with the work of Veterans Service Corp., a local firm headed by Emmanuel Bailey. Bailey is reportedly well-connected to local D.C. politicians, and Greek-based Intralot was expected to use his firm under its contract.
Intralot powers both Washington, D.C.’s lottery and GambetDC, the District’s most widely available sports betting application. Boothe was reportedly unhappy that Bailey’s annual salary exceeded $1 million and felt VSC, a subcontractor of Intralot that also goes by Vital Services Contractors, was falling well short of expectations, according to documents and emails obtained by each local news outlet.
Shortly after voicing frustrations to Washington D.C.’s small business agency in a letter, Boothe was removed from his post. Intralot Chairman Nikolaos Nikolakopoulos took over as CEO and wrote to D.C. officials retracting Boothe’s statements.
Sports Handle reached out to Intralot and VSC, but did not hear back from either entity.
The stories once again shine a spotlight on Intralot’s controversial role in D.C. sports betting and the future of sports wagering in the District. The sports wagering contract that gives Intralot the ability to power GambetDC was a five-year deal signed in July of 2019, which leaves about a year until the council will need to renew the contract or look for alternatives.
“It leads to the same question over and over again: Why are we doing business with Emmanuel Bailey and Intralot at this point?” former D.C. council member Elissa Silverman told Sports Handle concerning the news reports.
Bailey’s previous controversies
The recent articles aren’t the first controversial news stories about Emmanuel Bailey. VSC came under scrutiny after The Washington Post reported in 2019 that the company’s only employee was Bailey’s mother and that the company had a confounding history that involved close ties to Intralot.
Even before that, The Washington Times questioned Bailey’s business dealings in 2010, a year after he began working closely with Intralot in dealings with the D.C. Lottery. In 2012, Bailey was mentioned in a Washington Post story about a federal investigation into possible corruption related to Intralot being awarded the D.C. Lottery contract.
Even with questions swirling, VSC’s influence in the DMV sports betting landscape is growing. VSC was awarded a mobile sports betting license in Maryland on April 19 from the state’s Sports Wagering Application Review Commission. Bee-Fee LLC will operate VSC’s mobile platform, whenever it launches.
The Maryland Lottery and SWARC each shared reports on VSC in the spring, reviewing the credentials of the company and Bailey. The lottery found that VSC had “sufficient business ability and experience” and “no potential disqualifying factors” in receiving a mobile wagering license.
Bailey’s connection to Washington, D.C. sports betting was viewed as a positive for why his company was deserving of licensure in Maryland. A Maryland Lottery spokesperson declined to go into detail last week when asked if the lottery had any comment about the Axios report suggesting VSC was falling short of contracted sports wagering work in the District.
“We don’t have anything further to offer about these two companies or any business arrangement they have agreed to,” Seth Elkin, the Maryland Lottery’s managing director of communications, told Sports Handle.
GambetDC’s iffy history
Questions about VSC are only part of the story of Washington, D.C.’s sports betting struggles.
GambetDC often offers less competitive odds than major mobile sportsbooks like BetMGM, Caesars Sportsbook, and FanDuel, which all have retail sportsbooks in the District but can’t offer their mobile platforms throughout the District. GambetDC’s interface was overhauled last summer in an attempt to rival other mobile sportsbooks available in Virginia and Maryland.
Arguably GambetDC’s worst mishap was the iOS app failing during the Super Bowl in 2022. A miscommunication about renewing an SSL certificate caused the iOS app to go down for multiple hours on Super Bowl Sunday, the most popular sports betting day of the year.
The Super Bowl failure led to a series of D.C. council committee meetings questioning GambetDC’s effectiveness, and Intralot paid the D.C. Lottery $500,000 for the mistake.
DC’s sports betting contract is a scam enabled by certain DC councilmembers who approved it. It was supposed to generate lots of money, and there are no repercussions for those who green lighted this swindle. Scoop: Civil war inside D.C. sports gambling https://t.co/mWT52p4Scs
— Elissa Silverman (@tweetelissa) June 7, 2023
Change coming soon?
Silverman proposed a bill before leaving the council that would have allowed for mobile operators other than GambetDC to have access across the District. It never gained traction.
D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson went on The Politics Hour podcast last week, discussing a host of topics including sports wagering. Mendelson noted concerns about Intralot and GambetDC’s performance to date, without mentioning any support for a change before the Intralot contract expires.
“I’m disappointed at the continuing controversy over this not living up to the expectations, and if it can’t live up to the expectations, then we need to change this structure,” Mendelson said.