As D.C. sports bettors settled in for their Super Bowl parties, they soon realized that GambetDC – the sports betting platform powered by the D.C. Lottery and legally accessible in many spots in the District – wasn’t working on their iPhones.
Users posted on Twitter, asking GambetDC why they were unable to wager.
“The GambetDC iOS app is experiencing a technical issue and is currently unavailable,” GambetDC’s Twitter account replied to users. “We are working to get it up and running as soon as possible.”
The timing was suboptimal.
While GambetDC pointed out that bettors could use an Android app, their desktop computers, or bet in 39 retail locations, some users waited – not so patiently – in hopes that the iOS app for Apple users would soon be restored. That didn’t happen on Super Bowl Sunday.
An industry source added context to GambetDC’s update, telling Sports Handle that the issue with GambetDC’s Super Bowl performance stemmed from a Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) certificate approval, which was part of an app update. An SSL certificate authenticates a website’s identity and allows for an encrypted connection. Having one of these certificates ensures that the GambetDC iOS app can keep customer information safe during transactions. DraftKings and other sportsbook operators also use SSL to keep confidential information secure.
The timing of the update, which wasn’t approved by Apple ahead of the game, led to issues on Super Bowl Sunday.
GambetDC’s mobile app provider is Intralot, a Greek-based gaming company that controversially received a sole-source contract in 2019. Intralot, which powers the D.C. Lottery’s online operations and did not have to go through the bid process to add sports betting to its repertoire, submitted the GambetDC app for update approval a few days before the Super Bowl. Unfortunately for users, the app update wasn’t approved and completed until after the biggest sports betting event of the year.
GambetDC’s iOS app stopped taking bets at around 4:30 p.m. on Super Bowl Sunday and wasn’t back up until Monday afternoon. GambetDC offered users $10 free bets for the inconvenience, although some users replied on Twitter that they were unable to receive them.
How will this help if app is down and you are unable to access online website? Free bet should be eligible for tomorrow as well for people who can only use app
— moneylockbets (@Moneylocksbets) February 14, 2022
Even Mayor Muriel Bowser was frustrated by GambetDC’s lack of Super Bowl availability.
“Obviously, if we’re going to have any system in the government, including for sports betting … it should work,” Bowser told the Washington Post. “It should especially work on the biggest sports day of the year.”
Who’s to blame?
The D.C. Lottery released an official statement about the mishap Monday, which read, “The Office of Lottery and Gaming’s (OLG) mobile app provider did not obtain approval from Apple for a required update resulting in the temporary removal of the GambetDC mobile app from the Apple iOS platform.”
As for who shoulders the blame for the iOS issues during the Super Bowl, more than one party may be at fault. While the application for an SSL renewal and an app update was sent to Apple early last week, the application approval process took longer than Intralot originally expected.
Wish they had allowed us to bet on whether a sole source contract to a non existent company for DC sports betting would blow up in their faces… pic.twitter.com/1zczr1esKQ
— Pete Gould (@pete_gould) February 13, 2022
It’s unclear why GambetDC didn’t receive approval as fast as Intralot anticipated, or why Intralot or the lottery didn’t make a stronger push for approval ahead of the Super Bowl, but the iOS app was temporarily placed on pause late Sunday afternoon. Eventually, the issue was fixed, but it kept iOS users from making bets in the two hours before kickoff and during the contest, which the Rams won 23-20 over the Bengals.
GambetDC told users to download a new version of its app Monday, but it shared no explanation for why the app went out a few hours before kickoff. And no issues with the app were reported earlier in the week, even as Intralot and the lottery waited for Apple to approve its pending update.
Sports Handle reached out to Intralot but didn’t receive an official statement from the organization prior to publication, and Apple declined to provide an official statement on the situation.
How much revenue was lost?
For sports betting, not many events generate interest quite like the Super Bowl. The game, which averaged over 110 million television viewers, was expected to generate nearly $8 billion worth of wagers in the U.S., according to the American Gaming Association.
Last year, bettors wagered $4.2 million on GambetDC in February, resulting in $600,365 in gross gaming revenue. That accounted for 45% of GambetDC’s 2021 revenue, with the Super Bowl likely a huge factor in the month’s success.
As for exactly how much money GambetDC might have left on the table Sunday as a result of the iOS issue, it’s still to be determined.
“We’re still reviewing our Super Bowl numbers and our channels, and so we’ll be able to release that in a while,” OLG spokesperson Nicole Jordan said.
Hard to believe perhaps, but the DC government turns out to be incapable of exploiting a sports betting monopoly. https://t.co/vpfFPTUEt8
— Stan Veuger (@stanveuger) February 14, 2022
Among Illinois, New Hampshire, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania, the Super Bowl accounted for an average of 12.2% of February 2021 handle. Given last year’s numbers and using data from other states as a reference point, if the Super Bowl accounted for 12.2% of GambetDC’s February 2021 handle, $500,000 would have been wagered on the Super Bowl in 2021. That would have accounted for about $72,000 in GGR and $7,200 in tax revenue based on a 10% tax rate.
About 60% of Americans use iOS operating systems on their mobile devices and tablets.
“When five [D.C. Council] members, including myself voted against this contract, we knew it was bad, but even I didn’t foresee it being this abysmal,” D.C. Council member Elissa Silverman tweeted about GambetDC’s Super Bowl issues.
D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson was displeased with the Super Bowl fiasco, but isn’t quite on the same page as Silverman.
“I kind of threw up my hands in despair when I heard about it,” Mendelson said in a statement to Sports Handle. “There is a lot of criticism on the city for retaining the lottery contract, but a lot of that criticism comes from private sector, for-profit gambling operations that want the business themselves. So I think it’s too soon to pull the plug on this contract, but the [Gambet] outage certainly didn’t help. The lottery board has got to get its act together and prove we did the right thing when voted in favor of the contract.”
‘Steaming pile of crap’
In isolation, the iOS issue might feel like an ill-timed error. When factored into the bigger picture, it’s hard to understand why D.C. customers would want to use GambetDC.
From not working during the Super Bowl to consistently offering subpar odds (the vig is often inferior compared to national sportsbook operators), to technical glitches, to falling short of revenue projections, GambetDC has come under intense scrutiny since its May 2020 launch. Jordan told Sports Handle in June that the platform’s less-than-stellar odds are because it operates under a different model than a typical casino sportsbook.
“Our hold is higher because our mission is to return profit to the District,” Jordan said. “GambetDC aims at maximizing revenue for the District while still providing competitive pricing and entertainment value to casual sports bettors.”
Jordan understood the frustration of users who couldn’t use their iOS apps to place bets during the Super Bowl. The lottery doesn’t necessarily have the same long-term view of GambetDC’s purpose as some of its disgruntled customers, though.
“Right now we’ve transferred almost a million dollars to the city, and so GambetDC is doing exactly what it’s supposed to be doing,” Jordan said Tuesday. “We’re projecting that we will meet our sales goals for this year.”
App Store reviews of GambetDC are largely negative, with users giving detailed reasons why they dislike the platform. While reviews of sportsbook apps aren’t always the best (many sports betting app reviews come from disgruntled customers), GambetDC’s 1.6 rating out of five possible stars is a bit jarring.
With legal wagering in Virginia a short drive away from D.C., users can opt to head there to place legal mobile wagers on sites like BetMGM, DraftKings, and FanDuel. Soon, they may be able to visit Maryland to place mobile sports bets, as the state hopes to launch digital wagering options by the end of 2022.
Gambet is especially bad, but there’s no good reason for DC to lock themselves in with any one exclusive contractor for district-wide sports betting. Just open it up to competition and tax them all! DC doesn’t need to run a sports book when can run a taxing authority.
— Harry Stein (@HarrySteinDC) February 13, 2022
Part of the explained push to give out a sole-source contract to Intralot was to get sports betting up and running to beat Virginia and Maryland to the punch. The District met that goal, but a recent audit of D.C. mobile sports betting recommended improving the app for a better customer experience.
“We can only hope that one day other companies will be allowed to operate in the District,” one App Store customer wrote in a scathing review. “Until then, we are stuck with this steaming pile of crap.”