Eyes were glued to TVs in Caesars Sportsbook at Capital One Arena on Thursday afternoon, soaking in the first day of the men’s NCAA Basketball Tournament. People clapped and fist-pumped as No. 4 seed Providence pulled away from No. 13 seed South Dakota State, while a few others groaned as their early upset pick fell by the wayside.
The basketball analytics site KenPom.com considers Providence the luckiest team in college basketball this season, giving the Friars a fitting win on St. Patrick’s Day. As they watched their bets cash, a group of Providence bettors drank a beer tower of green Bud Light, a festive menu item offered Thursday at the location.
The atmosphere the weekend before, when Capital One Arena hosted the men’s A-10 Tournament, was just as lively. Saturday afternoon and evening were buzzing inside the location as conference championships raged on throughout the day. Tennessee bettors quickly headed to the counter to cash their SEC Tournament wagers once the underdog Volunteers knocked off Kentucky, which also fell Thursday night in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
“Compared to the Vegas atmosphere, or at least a Vegas sportsbook, it seems like it has a lot of that same spirit to it,” said Matt Josephs, a sports handicapper and radio host from Richmond, Virginia.
Josephs visited the sportsbook while in D.C. to cover the A-10 Tournament, which was won by the Richmond Spiders. Richmond then picked up a win in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, beating a red-hot Iowa team.
The LUCK never ends for the Providence Friars.
They get No. 12 Richmond next with a Sweet 16 berth on the line.
— Jeff Goodman (@GoodmanHoops) March 17, 2022
“I liked the setup,” Josephs said. “I think it’s very nice. I can imagine … if I’m going to see the Caps or the Wiz, walking in, placing some bets, maybe even eating when there’s not a game there, and putting some bets down.”
Legal mobile sports betting tends to dominate handle, gross revenue, and tax revenue when compared to brick-and-mortar betting, but retail wagering is thriving in Washington, D.C. The Caesars location opened last May, and BetMGM’s Sportsbook at Nationals Park opened earlier this year. Grand Central Sportsbook offers a third retail betting location within the District.
The success of retail wagering stems largely from the District’s unique mobile betting laws and the lack of success for GambetDC, a lottery-run betting app. While GambetDC slashes revenue projections, retail operators are outperforming their initial expectations and deserve credit for creating an atmosphere that draws fans.
GambetDC’s mobile platform is available throughout much of Washington, D.C., while mobile betting platforms offered by Caesars (Capital One Arena) and BetMGM (Nats Park) are limited to a two-block radius around their respective retail sportsbooks. Caesars’ mobile presence has been live in D.C. since late 2020, while BetMGM entered the market in June 2021, months before its retail location opened.
Even with mobile availability throughout much of the District, GambetDC reported a $4 million deficit in 2021. The app malfunctioned on Super Bowl Sunday, keeping iOS users from placing live bets during the game. Subpar odds and a clunky interface are among the common customer complaints for GambetDC users.
I’ve never wanted to give someone money more than @GambetDC but they just won’t let DC residents do it.
I’m even OK with the outrageous odds they give just for ease of betting from my sofa. But biking 30 minutes to MD for “exercise” is easier than loading money to this app.
— Jason Smith (@JasonSmith73) March 16, 2022
Given those concerns, there’s an opportunity for retail sportsbooks to make an impact in the D.C. betting market.
Mobile betting near the two major retail locations accounts for a good chunk of the betting totals. Caesars reported 100,000 mobile wagers in D.C. in April 2021, which was a month before its physical sportsbook officially opened, and the company also reported about 180,000 wagers (mobile and retail combined) taken in November 2021. GambetDC reported about 150,000 wagers received in November despite being available to mobile bettors in more locations throughout D.C.
“We’re seeing retail to be a much bigger part of the business here versus mobile,” Lottery Executive Director Frank Suarez said at a recent D.C. Council meeting.
Caesars offers entertaining experience
BetMGM Sportsbook at Nats Park and Caesars Sportsbook at Capital One Arena each offer an enjoyable game-day viewing experience, although the Caesars location is larger and more open. There’s more space between patrons, and there was significantly more cheering during games during my few visits to the Caesars location.
When it comes to mobile vs. retail betting, it’s often a comparison between convenience and experience. Mobile betting from your couch is easy – albeit maybe not as easy when using GambetDC. Betting in a retail sportsbook isn’t as convenient, but it can offer a viewing experience with friends that might surpass what your home offers, and that’s where Caesars makes an impact in D.C.
The location, which became the first sports betting venue to open inside a professional U.S. sports arena, includes two floors, 12 self-service betting kiosks, 17 betting windows, and more than 100 TV screens. The screens and seating areas are well positioned throughout the sportsbook, making it easy to enjoy multiple games at once. In my experience, the customer service at the location was strong, as were the food and drink options.
Get your 👀 at the William Hill Sportsbook at @CapitalOneArena!
The two-story, 18,000 square-foot venue features 17 betting windows & 12 self-service betting kiosks, as well as more than 100 TV screens including a jumbotron that is a replica of the one inside Capital One Arena. pic.twitter.com/N1M7hF0zit
— William Hill US (@WilliamHillUS) May 26, 2021
“For sportsbooks, you’re gonna be graded on your Super Bowl parties, your March Madness [experience],” Josephs said. “There were more than enough TVs, there were plenty of comfy chairs, there were tables if you just wanted to eat.”
While mobile betting is always going to play a significant role in sports betting, Caesars Sportsbook at Capital One Arena makes it clear that there’s still a place for retail sportsbooks. The betting experience matters to customers, and occasionally stopping by a physical sportsbook with friends can be an enjoyable way to spend an evening.
“I think the more that legalization happens, I think you’re gonna see more places like that,” Josephs said.