WASHINGTON — Optimism and a sense of urgency surround a move to legalize sports betting in D.C., where leaders hope to beat Maryland and Virginia to the punch.
“Sports betting is going to happen and I believe we should act before our neighboring jurisdictions,” said D.C. Councilmember Jack Evans, at a public hearing for the District’s sports gambling measure.
“You can see the cluster around us,” he said, referring to West Virginia, New Jersey and Delaware, which all offer sports betting. “It’s my view that over the course of the next several years, sports betting will be across the country,” he said.
Councilmember Vincent Gray said revenue earned from taxes on sports gaming operators would go to the arts and to children’s education. “This is an opportunity now to put the money from an endeavor that I think lots of people will participate in, into something that nobody can argue with,” he said.
“I think that we have to act” to create a new revenue stream to fund early childhood development, said Councilmember Robert White.
None of the members present from the Finance and Revenue Committee voiced direct opposition to the bill.
Councilmembers also heard from companies that stand to benefit. DraftKings, which operates the largest online sportsbook in New Jersey, has a database of customers in the Washington metro area, according to the company’s Griffin Finan. “We are positioned to market to these people on day one,” he said. He added that an estimated 130,000 D.C. residents make $319 million in bets per year through an online, offshore gambling market. Representatives of FanDuel and MGM also spoke.
Keith Whyte, with the National Council on Problem Gambling, urged caution, while not taking a stance on the bill. “We continue to recommend that D.C. establish at least a rudimentary problem gambling safety net prior to the onset of sports betting,” he said. Whyte noted the Department of Health “provides no services for gambling addiction to any D.C. residents.”
A pair of opponents told councilmembers the legal sports gambling would essentially be a regressive tax on low income residents.
Under the bill, the in-person and online gambling would be regulated by the DC Lottery. Debate remains over the number of licenses that could be handed out and what types of business would be able to offer the gambling.
A ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court earlier this year cleared the way for all 50 states to offer legal sports betting.