City lawmakers in Washington have voted to legalize sports betting, making the nation's capital the first U.S. jurisdiction without casinos to authorize sports books.
The D.C. Council voted 11-2 on Tuesday to authorize betting on professional sports at the city's stadiums and arenas, private businesses like restaurants and liquor stores, and within the city limits on a mobile app.
Democratic Mayor Muriel Bowser supports the bill, which needs her signature to become law. It would also need to survive a review by Congress, but with Democrats taking over the House in January, the law from the Democratic-dominated city is almost certainly safe. Supporters hope bets could be taken in the city within months, although there is no firm timetable.
In May, the Supreme Court struck down a law that banned sports betting in most U.S. states. Since then, several states have authorized betting on sports. The closest place to Washington with legal sports betting is a casino in Charles Town, West Virginia. Sports gambling is also legal in New Jersey, Delaware and Pennsylvania.
Because Washington lacks casinos, the D.C. Lottery would oversee sports betting, an arrangement that makes the nation's capital an outlier. Athens, Greece-based Intralot is the city's current lottery vendor. The lottery would sell licenses to sports books at arenas and stadiums for $250,000 over five years, and retailers would be able to purchase a two-year license for $5,000. There is no cap on the number of licenses.
Casino industry groups had a measured reaction to the bill's passage, saying that handing over control of sports gambling to the lottery could stifle competition.
"While the vote today is progress, we remain deeply concerned about giving the lottery a virtual monopoly in the mobile market," Sara Slane, a vice president at the American Gaming Association, said in a statement. "Predictably, this will result in less investment and innovation, to the detriment of consumers and the ability of a nascent legal marketplace to compete with the accessibility and convenience offered by many established illegal wagering operations."
Operators would be taxed at 10 percent of revenue, and city officials have estimated that legal sports gambling will bring in $92 million over four years. Critics said that figure was overly optimistic, particularly if neighboring Maryland, which has several casinos including the massive MGM National Harbor just over the city line, legalizes sports betting.
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