Sports betting in DC seems to fall short when compared with other states

When sports betting was passed in D.C. in late 2018, the city optimistically forecast $92 million in new revenues over the next four years.

From there, it took a year and a half to get the program off the ground, just in time for the COVID-19 pandemic to put the sports world on pause.

But with the DC Lottery’s Gambet app up and running, it’s still worth looking at how sports gambling is working in D.C. compared to other states.

In terms of revenue generated, the city is getting more per wager than other states. But that’s a function of the odds Intralot — which runs the app for the city — is giving bettors.

The goal is to maximize revenue for the city and Gambet does that, though it also seems to generate as much criticism as it does revenue.

But increasing competition in the future could negate that, and the things that bettors dislike about Gambet leaves room to question whether the city is generating as much revenue as it could be.

Between the May 30 launch and Aug. 3, the DC Lottery saw nearly $1.2 million wagered, with over $237,000 in revenue sent back to city coffers.

It’s worth noting that professional sports didn’t resume playing in the U.S. until July.

One of the best states for comparison may be Colorado — a state that launched sports betting in May, with 5 million more residents than the District.

It saw over $25 million wagered in May, and $38 million wagered in June. That netted the state over $300,000 in revenue for those two months.

In June alone, bettors in Colorado wagered nine times as much money just on pingpong as D.C. saw wagered in the first two-plus months of Gambet going live.

In Colorado, there are roughly 20 different mobile apps available for people to place a bet on a sporting event with. In D.C., there’s currently only Gambet.

“Because it is really much more of a monopoly, the odds that were being offered to consumers were not terribly appealing for them to want to place a bet,” said Sara Slane, the head of Slane Advisory, one of the top sports gaming consulting firms in the country.

“I just think it’s been a lackluster experience so far and hasn’t really attracted the demand the city was hoping would be created,” she said.

Though July numbers aren’t available yet, states such as New Jersey and Pennsylvania also saw sports betting revenues rebound, even though pro sports hadn’t really fired up again in the U.S.

Pennsylvania reported tens of millions of dollars in wagers in June, and nearly $8 million in revenue generated back to state and local governments.

Rhode Island, with a much smaller population (but still a few hundred-thousand more residents than D.C.) still saw about $2 million wagered just in June. However, the Rhode Island Lottery told WTOP that led to about $44,000 in revenue for the state that month, since Rhode Island takes a smaller cut and doesn’t operate its own app the way D.C. does.

“The argument I would make is it [revenue generated in D.C.] could be a lot higher,” Slane said. “If you actually had more handle, and more people betting, then you would be generating more tax revenue for the city ultimately.”

She warned that though the app may be profitable now, its overall lack of popularity could be a problem in the future as more ways to bet on sports pop up in D.C. and the surrounding area.

Sports betting is also expected to begin in Virginia early next year, while Maryland might get in the game, too.

“I think you’re going to see far more choices happening outside the District and more opportunities for consumers to then place bets in the neighboring states,” Slane said.

That would make it harder for that original $92 million figure to be realized.

“Most people [in the D.C. region] live outside of the District of Columbia, and so are they just going to wait to place a bet then when they go home? Or are they active enough that they’ll go over the bridge into Virginia or Maryland (if it gets approved), where they can get more competitive odds via mobile and not waste their time in the District?”

It’s not a concern at the moment, but next spring the D.C. Council is scheduled to get an audit that details the performance of Gambet and Intralot right around the time the number of sports gaming options in the region will have grown, giving the council the opportunity to review and perhaps changes things depending on what the audit finds.

John Domen

John started working at WTOP in 2016 after having grown up in Maryland listening to the station as a child. While he got his on-air start at small stations in Pennsylvania and Delaware, he's spent most of his career in the D.C. area, having been heard on several local stations before coming to WTOP.

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