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Sports Betting Bills Introduced in D.C., Virginia

In late October, a three-way race on sports betting bills between Washington D.C., Virginia, and Maryland emerged, with each of the three jurisdictions looking to legalize sports betting ahead of the rest.

Becoming the first locale to bring regulated sports betting to the “Beltway” area would represent a major coup for the states and cities involved, but recent developments may put the nation’s capital on the inside track.

Maryland must run any attempt to expand gambling in the state, so sports betting won’t arrive there until 2020 at the earliest. Not beholden to that ballot bind, however, lawmakers in D.C. and Virginia are free to tackle sports betting bills legislation at their leisure.

Regional neighbors like Delaware, New Jersey, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania have all taken advantage of a May ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court, which repealed a federal ban on sportsbooks outside of Nevada back in May. Since that decision was rendered, seven states have launched legal sportsbooks, with Mississippi, New Mexico, and Rhode Island rounding out the list, so stakeholders in both D.C. and Virginia are keen to get in on the lucrative industry.

D.C. Council Unanimously Approves Bill – But Only After Axing “Royalty Fee”

In a hearing held on November 28, the District of Columbia Council convened to vote on Bill 22-944, also known as the “Sports Wagering Lottery Amendment Act of 2018.”

The bill was introduced in October by D.C. Councilmember Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), one day after the Council held a preliminary hearing to discuss sports betting regulation.

At the time, Evans framed his support for sports betting in terms of economic competition, telling colleagues that the District couldn’t afford to let gambling dollars flow across the border.

The most recent hearing, held by the Council’s Committee on Finance and Revenue, Evans took center stage to formally introduce his bill. As described by Evans, the District’s Office of Lottery would be tasked with overseeing local sportsbooks, which would ostensibly be located in the city’s professional sports arenas and stadiums.

With D.C. power players like Ted Leonsis – owner of the Capitals of the NHL and Wizards of the NBA – on board to support sports betting bills, Evans’ pitch looked to be a layup. But his decision to align with pro leagues by including a so-called “royalty fee” – deemed an “integrity fee” during legislative debates in other states – prompted immediate opposition.

Eventually, Evans’ proposal to give the leagues one-quarter of one percent of all sportsbook revenue was roundly shot down, prompting the lawmaker to amend his own bill.

With the fee struck entirely from Evans’ sports betting proposal, the Committee then voted unanimously to move sports betting forward.

Sports Betting Bills Put Forth in Virginia, One of Which Allows Online Wagers

While the D.C. Council remains in session throughout the remainder of 2018, lawmakers in Virginia must wait until the new session begins in January to get to work.

Despite the delay, however, both state senator Chap Petersen (D-Fairfax) and state house delegate Mark D. Sickles (D-Fairfax) recently announced that they’d be submitting sports betting bills as soon as possible.

Sickles spoke to the Washington Post to outline his motivation, much of which focuses on economic growth:

“I think it’s time to bring illegal sports gambling that’s going on into the light, have it regulated and have it benefit Virginia’s economy.”

The two sports betting bills vary wildly in terms of logistics, including tax rates, licensing fees, and online / mobile wagering, but in a public statement Petersen made it clear that he opposes internet-sportsbooks:

“Maybe I’m old-fashioned, but I’m not as interested in Internet gambling.

I think of it more as a form of entertainment. I’m not interested in addicted gamblers sitting in the basement wagering. Go out, place a bet, socialize.”

Sickles is more amenable to the idea of online / mobile wagering, asserting that modern geolocation technology will assist operators in verifying their customers’ identities.