The District took a giant step forward, moving closer to joining eight states that have already legalized sports betting with the D.C. Council voting Tuesday, Dec. 4 and approving the Sports Wagering Lottery Amendment Act 2018, 10-2. The opposing votes came from Council members David Grosso (I- At- Large) and Brianne Nadeau (D-Ward 1) while Council member Kenyon McDuffie (D-Ward 5), due to absence, did not cast an opinion.
The decision keeps the door open as even more states contemplate undertaking similar moves – now occurring with greater frequency since the Supreme Court, earlier this year in May, struck down federal law that had previously prohibited sports betting either in casinos or online.
Still, as Council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) predicted several months ago, the bill will require a few more changes and nuances before the full council feels comfortable enough to vote yes on the legislation.
As D.C. Council takes a more insightful review of the pros and cons, other states in the region, including both Virginia and Maryland, have already indicated that they will begin to debate the issue early next year when their legislative sessions resume.
The bill in its present form, would allow private operators to apply for licenses to operate sports betting facilities throughout the District with one class of licenses reserved for the city’s five existing stadiums and arenas, another class of licenses allowing it at venues like bars and restaurants. The bill would also establish a two-block radius around the stadiums and arenas in which no other betting facility could open.
Evans says revenue estimates range from $20 million to $500 million.
One stumbling block recently raised had been a royalty requested by some of the sports leagues, including MLB, the NBA and the PGA who want all operators to pay 25 cents for every $100 bet – something they said would cover the cost of them providing exclusive data and trademarked content to betting operations in the city.
Evans, however, opined that it was too high in addition to it making D.C. the first in the U.S. to require such a fee. Council member Vincent Gray (D-Ward 7) successfully led the initiative which eliminated the royalty fee from the bill citing the fact that major sports leagues didn’t need the money.
Mayor Muriel Bowser, who had indicated that she backed the bill, released a statement saying she “supports Evans’ efforts to make sports betting a viable revenue source for our growing needs.”
“Sports betting can help us fund critical programs, create jobs for District residents and allow visitors and commuters to further participate in our economy,” she continued.
However, debate goes on over how the money would be spent and whether the DC Lottery or outside vendors would serve as operators.
White’s Amendment, Call for Minority Inclusion Stalled
And while Council member-at-Large Robert White voted with the majority on the first reading of the Sports Wagering Lottery Amendment Act 2018, authorizing sports wagering in the District, he could not persuade his colleagues to likewise approve his revisionary bill, Amendment 1, which would have called for mandatory minority inclusion.
White stands as an advocate for small, local, women and minority-owned businesses, as well as certified business enterprises [CBEs], and seeks more conclusive policies and procedures that give minorities a “real chance” to be part of what experts predict will unfold in D.C. within the next several months: a quickly-emerging sports betting market – and therefore the reduction of financial gaps that he insists have persisted for decades.
He says his amendment would have addressed several factors that he believes can no longer be ignored: earlier moves by several well-capitalized companies who have already placed themselves in positions to both enter and take over the multi-million dollar-anticipated industry in the District; and the alarming fact that despite the city being 47 percent Black and 52 percent female, among the city’s largest industries (banks, hotels, sports teams and development companies) Black-, Latino- or women-owned businesses, most of which are limited in options, often because of the lack of access to capital, remain underrepresented, relegated to a second-tier status.
Upon the conclusion of the vote, Evans announced his willingness to work with White toward drafting a revised document that would both assuage White’s concerns and garner the approval of the Council’s majority prior to a second, final reading of the bill scheduled Tuesday, Dec. 18.
If approved, the bill would advance to the mayor’s desk for her signature.
White, in a statement made several days before Tuesday’s meeting, said he’ll continue to push for long-needed change that would ensure greater access and equity for minority businesses eager to get their seat at the table and their slice of the proverbial pie.
“Our leaders often talk about the legacy of Mayor Marion Barry, emphasizing his efforts to put minorities and women into positions of power,” White wrote. “We now need to continue to push that legacy forward with actions. It’s easy to talk about this legacy when things are going fine but [at the present] minorities are still underrepresented in key arenas.”