Against a backdrop of U.S. Congressmen proposing the idea of a federal framework for sports betting, a District of Columbia city council member has introduced a bill that would allow sports betting in the nation’s capitol. According to the Washington Post, Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) introduced legislation that he says he is co-authoring with Democratic mayor Muriel E. Bowser and Democratic city councilman Phil Mendelson.
The bill has been referred to the Finance and Revenue Committee, of which Evans is the chairman. (Read the bill here.) The District is in a unique situation in that is it essentially a city-state and the 13-member City Council makes law in D.C. Given the relatively small number of lawmakers, the process is more nimble than in a larger state governments. However, laws passed by the Council are subject to Congressional approval.
Should the District of Columbia legalize sports betting, it would be the first in the immediate region to do so. Maryland is very much a gaming state but did not pass sports betting legislation in 2018 that would have put the matter of legalization to voter referendum. The closest states with legal sports betting are Delaware — the first in the nation to roll out sports betting post-PASPA — and West Virginia, which took its first sports bet in late August.
D.C. Sports Betting Bill Calls for 10 Percent Tax on Gross Revenue and a $50,000 Application Fee, But Does Not Include an Integrity Fee
According to the Post story, Evans’ bills covers most of the key points, including the tax rate. What the bill does not include is the integrity fee that the professional leagues have been lobbying for or the suggestion that sportsbooks use official league data. Below are the salient points:
- The regulating body would be D.C.’s chief financial officer, who currently oversees the city’s lottery;
- Sports betting would be taxed at 10 percent of gross revenue;
- The city would charge a $50,000 licensing fee;
- Athletes, coaches and game officials would be prohibited from placing sports bets; and
- Tax revenue would be split equally between early childhood education programs and the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities. If those programs are fully funded, any surplus dollars would go into the city’s general fund.
“The lottery has worked with Councilman Evans providing technical assistance in order so that it will be able to regulate and operate the program should the council and mayor approve it in a way that maximizes the return to the District,” David Umansky, spokesman for Chief Financial Officer Jeffrey S. DeWitt, told The Post.
Evans apparently has broad support, with five other council members co-sponsoring bill. The council is comprised of 13 members from around Washington, and the current council has 11 Democratic members and two Independents. According to the D.C. City Council website, the group works on two-year sessions and the current one closes on Jan. 2, 2019 at noon. Any legislation that has not been passed dies with the deadline and would have to be re-introduced in the next session. The council’s next legislative session is set for Oct. 2.
Washington, D.C. does not currently have any casinos.
Like Any New Law in D.C., a Sports Betting Law Would Require Congressional Approval
The introduction of a bill is merely the first step in a multi-part process to becoming law. Should Evans’ bill be approved by committee, it will be put on a Council agenda for vote. The bill would go through two readings before being voted on, and then would be sent to the mayor’s office for approval.
Unlike state governments, after the mayor approves a bill, it is sent to the U.S. Senate for 30-day review period. During this period, Congress can enact a joint resolution to disapprove the act. Should this happen, and should the president sign off on it, the Council’s act would not become law.
Since PASPA was struck down in May, two congressmen have floated the idea of a federal sports betting framework — which the professional sports leagues would favor, but that many states and gaming stakeholders oppose. The American Gaming Association is steadfastly against a federal framework and just last week spelled out the reasons why in a memo to New York Senator Chuck Schumer.
In late August, Schumer released a memo to ESPN that outlines a federal framework that would include requiring sportsbooks to use official league data and would allow the leagues to have a say in what kinds of bets could be placed.
Schumer joined Utah Republican Orrin Hatch, one of the original architects of PASPA, in calling for a federal framework.