DC Online Sports Betting Goes Live After Bumpy Journey, App Still Not Ready

Posted on: May 28, 2020, 04:35h. 

Last updated on: May 28, 2020, 06:19h.

The DC Lottery’s sports betting platform, GamBetDC, went live Thursday and is now taking bets, albeit from a threadbare sporting calendar.

DC Sports betting Goes Live
On the day that DC United players resumed individual training in preparation for a possible MLS restart in June, DC’s long-awaited sports betting platform finally went live, minus the app. (Image: NBC Sports)

The District’s retail operations at sports bars and stadiums — which will include a William Hill sports book at the Capitol One Arena — are still under regulatory review.

The Lottery said in a statement Wednesday that it recognized there would be a limited number of events to wager on, but added it hoped the online “soft launch” would provide “an opportunity to roll out the GambetDC website to potential players in the District in preparation for the return of sports.”

Where’s the App?

It’s a soft launch, says the Lottery, because its mobile app isn’t yet ready. This is expected at some point in early June, and for now, users need to be in their web browsers to place bets.

Confusingly, they must also be within the city limits, but outside federal enclaves (of which there are many) and not within two blocks of a sports stadium. This presents something of a geolocation headache, which could explain technical hiccups with the app.

But the Lottery had hoped to launch wagering last September in time for the NFL season — a date that was then bumped to March to be ready in time for March Madness. It was then postponed when the coronavirus outbreak triggered the wholesale cancellation of sports. So it’s not as though this thing has been rushed to market.

It makes some sense to launch now, though, because June promises more sports than the barren months of mid-March to the end of May.

UFC250 will now take place on June 5, while the PGA Tour is expected to return, and soccer fans will be delighted by the restarts of the EPL, La Liga, and Serie A — and probably MLS — in mid-June.

Dogged by Controversy

App or no app, today’s launch marks the end of a bumpy and often controversial journey towards licensed and regulated sports betting in DC.

First, there was the decision to award the $215 million mobile betting monopoly to DC’s existing lottery operator, Intralot, in a no-bid contract. This came about despite the whiff of cronyism that still lingered over the lottery contract the Greek company received back in 2009.

That deal became the subject of a federal grand jury corruption investigation, although no one was ultimately charged.

Then there was the revelation from The Washington Post that Intralot’s local partner in the sports betting contract was a company with no employees other than the CEO, Emmanuel Bailey, and his 75-year-old mother.

According to The Post, Bailey had personal links to former DC Council members, and his company, Veteran Services, was registered at his mother’s house.

DC’s hopes of launching sports betting in the fall of 2019 were scuttled by a subsequent court injunction.

Scandalous Odds

Questions remain about now-ex DC Council member and finance committee chair Jack Evans, who spearheaded the entire sports betting push, but resigned in January after investigators found he had committed several unrelated conflict-of-interest and ethics violations.

But the biggest scandal surrounding DC sports betting is Intralot’s prices, which are far stingier than anywhere else in America — except for Montana, where the same operator also holds the mobile monopoly.

Intralot sold DC the idea of a high-hold model — where a sports book pays back less money to the customer — as a way of maximizing revenues for the District.

But offering inferior odds to those of competitors in neighboring states — not to mention the black market — is unlikely to be a winning ticket.