DC bars, restaurants hope to take bets by Super Bowl

D.C. bars and restaurants could be ready to take your bets by Super Bowl Sunday, even though plans for citywide sports betting have been tied up in the city’s bureaucracy as well as the courts.

But private businesses are running up against licensing issues and uncertain timelines for when betting could start.

A consortium of 30 bars and restaurants known as Bet D.C., which includes Duffy’s, Wet Dog Tavern, and The Brig, is waiting on final steps for a license that would let them operate mobile sports wagering within their businesses and at on-site kiosks. Bet D.C. is currently looking to partner with an existing app in the sports betting space, like those run by MGM or DraftKings, because of the legal and logistical challenges involved with creating its own app.

This app would be separate from the one by Intralot, the company given a $215-million, no bid contract by the D.C. Lottery, that’s now tied up in the courts, and would only be able to take bets within the property lines of the establishments themselves.

At issue is when businesses could apply for their initial temporary licenses to begin operations. The window to apply for such licenses has not yet opened, nor is there a set date for it.

That raises questions about whether businesses would be ready by Super Bowl Sunday on Feb. 3, even if the city started accepting applications by mid-December.

Jeff Ifrah, an attorney managing much of the process for Bet D.C., said his group has been told the application window will open sometime in the next few weeks.

Nicole Jordan, with the Office of Lottery and Gaming told WTOP the timeline for accepting applications would begin “after Thanksgiving.” In early October, OLG told WTOP applications would be accepted in “upcoming weeks.” Coupled with a 30-45 day review period that OLG quoted for provisional licenses, the timeline is getting tight.

While bars and restaurants would have a different class of license than city arenas, which are also able to operate independent of citywide sports betting, the D.C. Lottery said “all applicants follow the same licensing process” and would be on the same trajectory and set of timelines.

Another barrier to entry is the upfront cost for the bars and restaurants, from the licenses to infrastructure. It’s one reason Bet D.C. is looking to partner with a third-party app provider. Geolocation, one the biggest challenges in legal sports betting in D.C., is another.

“We’d like to go with a brand that consumers know who can handle the geolocation (issues),” said Ifrah. “It is the most expensive cost of this whole operation. It’s a problem. A big problem. We’re talking about a couple-hundred-thousand-dollars-a-year problem.”

Another issue facing sports betting is the posting of reserve money to ensure player winnings can be covered without putting individual bars and restaurants in financial jeopardy.

“The lottery, rightfully, wants to make sure D.C. consumers aren’t put out if they win,” said Ifrah.

Traditional cash cages, like the ones in casinos, are impractical and pose safety concerns for businesses.

“We don’t want people leaving their table,” said Ifrah. “We want them at the bar. We don’t want them going anywhere. We want them to have their phone, be able to look at it, be able to continue engaging.”

Additionally, bars and restaurants that want sports betting need to have the D.C. Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration review their licenses. So far, 13 of the 30 have gone through reviews and received approvals.

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