The Washington D.C. Council decided not to fast-track a proposal to legalize sports betting, instead opting to allow for a public hearing before the legislation can go into effect.

Washington D.C. sports betting
Capital One Arena and other Washington D.C. arenas could host sportsbooks if proposed legislation goes into effect. (Image: The Baltimore Watchdog)

The council had considered pushing through the measure as emergency legislation, which would circumvent the need for a public comment period.

Lottery Argues Delays Would Be Costly

The decision was due in part to discussion over whether or not a competitive bidding process should be used, rather than simply giving the management contract to the same provider, Intralot, which currently works with the DC Lottery.

In a memo sent to the rest of the council earlier this month, Council Chair Phil Mendelson argued that emergency legislation was necessary to make sure the city maximized the potential of sports betting.

“Without this emergency legislation, the Office of Chief Financial Officer will have to go through a prolonged procurement process that could delay the implementation of sports wagering in the District by as many as three years, foregoing revenue and eliminating the advantages of being an early adopter of legalized sports wagering,” the memo read.

Council Fears Appearance of Impropriety

Many members of the council appear inclined to agree with that argument. However, they also acknowledged that there was no real reason to push the measure through as emergency legislation, and said they feared that doing so would look suspicious to the public.

“I haven’t gotten one email from a regular resident about the lottery, but I’ve gotten a lot of hallway chatter and emails from people who are going to make a lot of money from this,” council member Elissa Silverman (I-At Large) told The Washington Post. “This is about us as an institution, in terms of we need to protect ourselves from looking like this is an insider deal, a pay-to-play deal.”

According to Sam Ford of television station WJLA, the decision to withdraw the emergency measure was made during a closed-door breakfast meeting. Once the public council meeting took place, Mendelson quietly withdrew his agenda item, allowing the sports betting proposal to go forward as standard legislation.

Just how long that could delay the start of sports betting in the District will depend on how the council proceeds. If the council allows Intralot to manage the program without any bidding process, what was once seen as a summer launch could merely be pushed back until later in 2019. On the other hand, allowing for a competitive bidding process would certainly push that start back further – though it’s unclear if the three years cited in the memo is an honest estimate or more of a scare tactic.

Under the proposed legislation, the DC Lottery would offer licenses for venues in the city to open sportsbooks. Major arenas and stadiums would have the option to buy five-year licenses for $250,000 each, while other retail businesses would be allowed to offer sports betting with a two-year license that would cost just $5,000.

The bill has received a tepid response from the gaming industry. The American Gaming Association praised the council’s support of sports betting, but said that it had concerns over “giving the lottery a virtual monopoly in the mobile market.”

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