If all goes as the D.C. Council has planned, the District of Columbia will legalize sports betting Tuesday, making it the seventh government entity to legalize sports betting in 2018. (Pennsylvania, which took its first sports bets last month, legalized sports betting in 2017.) The Council will hear a second reading of a bill advanced two weeks earlier that will allow for sports betting in five professional sports venues and give the DC Lottery a monopoly on interactive gaming within the borders of the city.
The bill, which was first introduced in September, has gone through several iterations, including removing a payout to the professional leagues. The bill is on the Council’s “non-consent” legislative agenda, which means discussion and possibly some amendments are expected before the full council votes. If the previous meeting is any indication, discussion will likely center around allowing the DC Lottery, which would become sports betting’s regulatory body in the nation’s capitol, the ability to lock out competition when it comes to online and mobile sports betting.
There was also some discussion about the viability of sports betting at the now-defunct RFK Stadium, which is slated to be redeveloped into an NFL venue. But the council in early December appeared to agree to keep the stadium on the list of venues, though it is currently used as a youth sports venue.
D.C. Lottery Would Have Interactive Sports Betting Monopoly
As the bill stands now, the Lottery’s interactive gaming app would be the only one available to those within the city’s borders, other than in stadiums or other businesses licensed for sports betting. This model has not been seen anywhere that has already legalized sports betting, nor is it part of any proposed legislation elsewhere.
According to the bill’s champion, Councilman Jack Evans, the DC Lottery recommends the single-app model, calling it the most lucrative option for the city. That said, the bill does include language that would allow the Council to break the monopoly and invite commercial competition, should it become apparent that having a single vendor is not the best way for the city to capitalize on sports betting.
Traditionally, bills approved by the Council must be signed by the mayor and approved by the U.S. Congress before becoming law. Congress has 60 days to act on Council bill, and if it does not, the bill becomes law. However, it is not unusual for an identical emergency measure to be passed simultaneously in order to make the law effective as soon as the mayor signs it. The Council will take such action Tuesday, and vote on an emergency measure alongside the more permanent sports betting bill. Should both pass, this will effectively make the bill law immediately and will allow the Lottery to begin preparing to regulate and oversee sports betting.
The D.C. Council has been moving swiftly to legalize sports betting, in part because it is feeling pressure from neighboring Virginia and Maryland. West Virginia, which launched sports betting in the summer, is already advertising in D.C., and the Council would just as soon keep that money at home. In Virginia, Delegate Mark Sickles (D-District 43) filed a bill ahead of the 2019 session. Senator Chapman Peterson (D-District 34) has publicly stated that he is planning to file, as well. In Maryland, no bills have been pre-filed, and a bill introduced during the 2018 session didn’t make it to a vote.