Retail D.C. sports betting is delayed again

  • Washington, D.C. is facing yet another delay to its launch of retail sports betting, this time until summer 2021.
  • Sports betting was first legalized in D.C. in December 2018, but the first D.C. sportsbooks did not launch until May 2020.
  • In total, the retail launch will take two and a half years.
  • The online sports betting launch was a separate debacle. These things have called the D.C. Lottery’s competence into question.

WASHINGTONRetail sports betting in Washington, D.C. has once again been delayed, this time until summer 2021.

The first retail sportsbooks were set to launch in fall 2020, but the ongoing coronavirus pandemic forced regulators to delay the launch date, citing operational hazards.

This delay is understandable, given the lack of live sports to bet on, the dangerous pandemic, and the nationwide protests against police brutality and systemic racism.

Even if it were safe to operate a retail sportsbook in D.C. right now, the returns would be minimal.

This is not the first time that Washington, D.C. sports betting has faced a major delay.

Washington, D.C. initially legalized sports betting on December 18, 2018, meaning that launch is going to take well over two years.

In contrast, states like Illinois and Michigan managed to successfully launch sports betting mere months after passing appropriate legislation.

D.C. did manage to launch its sports betting app, run by Intralot, in late May, but this app only compounded the criticism when the first sports betting odds were released.

The majority of these odds offered significantly worse payouts than the same odds at other sportsbooks.

This entire debacle raises the question of whether or not the D.C. Lottery is capable of running sports betting in a territory with over 700,000 people. Every mistake or misstep erodes public trust, and the margin for error has become nonexistent.

Economic Impact Of DC Sports Betting Delays

While the latest delays were more than likely a good faith attempt to avoid unnecessary collateral damage because of COVID-19, there’s no getting around the fact that sports betting could help D.C. recoup much of the budget deficit caused by the pandemic.

Using an LSB projection model based on population, it is possible to estimate the annual financial impact of the first full year of sports betting on Washington, D.C.:

  • Handle: $105.6 million
  • Revenue: $7.2 million
  • Taxes: $724,618

The launch of retail sports betting will also slightly bolster D.C.’s tourism industry even though nearby states like Virginia and North Carolina also offer legal sports betting now.

It would be disingenuous to suggest that those numbers would be attainable during the pandemic, especially with almost no live sports to bet on right now, but the fact remains that legal sports betting would keep millions of dollars in Washington, D.C.

This will likely be the last chance for the D.C. Lottery to get the retail sports betting launch right.

Once a COVID-19 vaccine is rolled out (presumably that’s the reasoning behind the summer 2021 target date), they will need to stick the landing, or else there might be a shakeup of leadership.

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