William Hill US and Monumental Sports & Entertainment announced a landmark partnership Thursday that will result in the formation of the first physical sportsbook inside a U.S. professional sports venue.
Under the partnership, William Hill will become the exclusive sports betting partner of the Washington Wizards, Washington Capitals, Washington Mystics, each of whom play their home contests inside Capital One Arena. The facility, the William Hill Sports Book at Capital One Arena, will consist of multiple floors and will be open daily throughout the year. The sportsbook will contain a full-service food and beverage offering and will remain open on non-event days when a live sports event is not taking place.
Construction on the sportsbook is expected to begin pending regulatory approvals, the companies said in a joint statement.
“Monumental is dedicated to bringing the latest technology and innovation into our arena and delivering extraordinary experiences to our fans,” said Ted Leonsis, chairman, founder, principal partner and CEO, Monumental Sports & Entertainment. “Our partnership with William Hill compliments our vision of making our arena the premier sports and entertainment destination in Washington, D.C.”
The announcement came one day after William Hill entered into a partnership with the NBA in a seven-figure deal to become an authorized sports betting operator of the league. William Hill is the fourth sportsbook to execute a deal designating it as such, following MGM Resorts, FanDuel, and The Stars Group.
During NBA games, all passages to the physical sportsbook within the arena (including arena concourses and the arena bowl, etc.) will be closed. It is unclear if the same type of stipulations will be in place for Capitals’ games. Either way, fans will still have the opportunity to place wagers from their seats on the William Hill mobile betting app.
“This sportsbook will be a flagship venue for the industry and will serve the sports fans of the Washington D.C. area unlike any other,” said Joe Asher, CEO of William Hill US. “Partnering with Ted Leonsis and the entire Monumental team was ideal. They share our vision and principles for bringing innovative sports betting opportunities to fans in a responsible way. This deal sets a new benchmark for how the industry will serve fans and how fans engage in sports.”
Asher boarded a red-eye to the nation’s capital early Thursday morning after attending the Vegas Golden Knights’ regular-season opener against the San Jose Sharks hours earlier. William Hill also made history last year, creating the first partnership between an NHL team in North America and a sportsbook. There is signage and promotions such as the “William Hill Line Change,” but there is not a sportsbook in T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.
This may be an unpopular take, but I think Ted Leonsis got this one right. When it comes to retail B&M sportsbook experiences, William Hill gets it right.
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– Good screens and audio https://t.co/F5OUtiEokE
— Captain Jack Andrews (@capjack2000) October 3, 2019
Fan engagement is ostensibly a primary driver of the partnership. When Leonsis attended the 2012 London Summer Olympics, he spent a considerable amount of time wandering the streets of one of the world’s largest business hubs. He soon realized there were more William Hill sports betting parlors through the streets of London, than McDonald’s restaurants and Starbucks cafes. Sports gambling, as a business opportunity, appeared on his radar.
Leonsis strives to place himself at the forefront of innovation in sports. To that end, he is intently focused on integrating live streaming and over-the-top media services with Monumental Sports’ vast live sports portfolio. In October 2016, Monumental Sports took an equity stake in NBC Sports Washington (then Comcast SportsNet Mid-Atlantic), a regional sports network that airs more than 500 professional and collegiate sports events a year. NBC Sports Washington launched a unique offering in January when it partnered with Monumental Sports to roll out a free-to-play picks contest for select Wizards’ home games.
Leonsis is also a member of aXiomatic Gaming, an entertainment and sports management company, that owns Team Liquid, a professional esports organization. The Wizards’ owner views esports and legalized sports betting as vehicles for Monumental’s ongoing gamification of its content. Ultimately, he believes that sports gambling will help the company broaden its offerings and create a more interactive in-game experience for fans.
“We think William Hill is a hands-on leader in that space, so for us it was a great strategic fit,” Leonsis said.
— Adam Zielonka (@Adam_Zielonka) October 3, 2019
With the advent of in-game betting, Leonsis is hopeful that the app will compel fans to stay at the game even during the latter stages of lopsided contests. Of the Wizards’ 41 home games during the 2018-2019 regular season, more than 15 were decided by double-digits. Asher referenced a famous line uttered by Al Michaels in old Monday Night Football games to encapsulate the allure of sports betting.
“They would have these oblique references to gambling,” Asher said. “One team would be ahead by 20 points, there might be a minute left in the game and Al Michaels would say, ‘Well, it’s not over yet.’ There is a reason to watch until the very end of the game.”
Integrity concerns and exclusion zones
Nevertheless, Leonsis took great lengths on Thursday to reiterate that Monumental Sports will do its best to protect the integrity of the game when it comes to sports betting. The company will be far removed from the odds being set on D.C. area teams, he said, and has not entered into a revenue sharing agreement with William Hill.
“We rent to McDonald’s, we rent to Dunkin Donuts and we are renting out a big part of our building to William Hill,” Leonsis said. “We’ll collect rent, there is no revenue sharing. It’s just a rent basis.”
Last December, the D.C. City Council passed a bill, the Sports Wagering Lottery Amendment Act of 2018, that authorized four sports venues including Capital One Arena to operate retail sportsbooks inside their facilities. After the D.C. Lottery issued proposed sports betting regulators, Monumental Sports was one of several stakeholders that requested clarification on the Council’s definition of a “two-block exclusion zone,” around local professional sports venues, during a public comment period that ended July 15. Specifically, Monumental sought clarification on whether mobile and online Class A licensees will be able to operate within the two-block area.
As it pertains to Capital One Arena, Leonsis said he would like to grant exclusivity to a single operator — in this case William Hill. Monumental may even avoid the conundrum of throttling William Hill’s connectivity, while slowing the speed of other mobile betting apps owned by the sportsbook’s competitors. Based on William Hill’s understanding of the law, another sportsbook will be in violation by operating their app inside the arena, Asher said during a Thursday conference call.
Asher provided few details on the potential costs of retrofitting the area into a physical sportsbook, but hinted that it could be in the millions. Asher is optimistic that the D.C. Lottery could begin accepting sports betting license applications in early-2020, but he did not want to speculate on the exact date.
Neither Leonsis, nor Asher provided a timetable for the completion of the book.
“I’m not interested in being fast, I’m interested in getting it right,” Leonsis said.