The Council of the District of Columbia has passed legislation that authorizes sports betting in Washington, D.C., paving the way for the nation’s capital to become the latest jurisdiction to take legal wagering on sports.

Washington D.C. sports betting
Washington, D.C. legislators have passed a bill that would allow for legalized sports betting in the nation’s capital. (Image: Matt Rourke/AP)

The bill now needs the signature of Mayor Muriel Bowser, after which it will need to survive a 30-day review period in the US Congress.

Lottery Retains Exclusive Online Betting Rights

The D.C. Council voted 11-2 in favor of allowing betting on professional sports at stadiums, private businesses, and online within the city borders. Bowser supports the bill and is widely expected to sign the measure.

The legislation allows the D.C. Lottery to oversee sports betting in the city, and will not allow other operators to apply for online licenses. The lottery would sell brick-and-mortar licenses to venues in two classes: arenas and stadiums cold set up sportsbooks for $250,000 over five years, while other retail businesses like restaurants and bars could buy two-year licenses for $5,000.

There are also rules in place that protect the arenas, including Nationals Park, Capital One Arena, and Audi Field, by preventing other businesses from offering sports betting within a two-block zone around the stadiums.

AGA Says Bill is Welcome, But Flawed

However, legislators rejected a number of other requests from major sports leagues and gaming operators. The lobbying coalition asked for a .25 percent integrity fee on wagers and a requirement to use official league data; neither provision appeared in the final version of the bill.

According to the American Gaming Association, the bill is a positive development, but contains some notable flaws.

“While the vote today is progress, we remain deeply concerned about giving the lottery a virtual monopoly in the mobile market,” AGA vice president Sara Slane said in a statement. “Predictably, this will result in less investment and innovation, to the detriment of consumers and the ability of a nascent legal marketplace to compete with the accessibility and convenience offered by many established illegal wagering operations.”

Sportsbooks will be taxed at 10 percent of total revenue. Washington officials estimate that sports betting will raise $92 million in revenue over four years. At the moment, the city won’t have any immediate neighbors also offering legalized sports wagering, with West Virginia being the nearest competitor.

Critics of the measure question both the amount of money the city will earn, as well as exactly how D.C. is generating this revenue.

“The lure of easy, though incredibly improbably, financial advancement preys upon low-income individuals,” said council member David Grosso (I-At Large), one of the two councilors who voted against the measure.

How a D.C. Bill Becomes a Law

Like other cities across the United States and around the world, Washington, D.C. can create laws by having its legislature (the D.C. Council) vote on a bill, then having it signed by the mayor.

However, the District of Columbia also has an unusual extra step to contend with. The bill must be sent to both the House of Representatives and the Senate for a 30 days review period. If the two houses of Congress pass a joint resolution disapproving of a city act, and the President of the United States approves that resolution, then that legislation will be prevented from becoming a law.