Le­gal sports bet­ting

Some lo­cal law­mak­ers em­brace idea, but de­tails and tim­ing are un­clear

The Washington Post - - FRONT PAGE - BY STEVE THOMP­SON

may come to the Wash­ing­ton area after a Supreme Court rul­ing, but lo­cal law­mak­ers weren’t sure when.

Le­gal­ized sports bet­ting could come to the na­tion’s cap­i­tal or its sur­round­ings after a Supreme Court rul­ing this week opened the way for states to al­low it. But where, and how fast, re­main very much up in the air.

Nearly 20 states have in­tro­duced bills to le­gal­ize sports bet­ting or al­low vot­ers to de­cide. The Dis­trict and Vir­ginia aren’t among them.

In Mary­land, a bill call­ing for a voter ref­er­en­dum on the is­sue passed the House of Del­e­gates this year, but not the Se­nate. Any bet­ting pro­posal now must wait un­til next year, bar­ring a spe­cial leg­isla­tive ses­sion, which the of­fice of Gov. Larry Ho­gan (R) said he has no plans to ini­ti­ate. That pushes the soon­est po­ten­tial le­gal­iza­tion to 2020.

“The gov­er­nor has pre­vi­ously ex­pressed sup­port for the rights of states to make this de­ter­mi­na­tion,” Ho­gan spokes­woman Sha­reese Churchill said in an email. “We an­tic­i­pate this is­sue will be de­bated in the next leg­isla­tive ses­sion.”

Del. Jason C. Buckel (R-Al­le­gany), who has spon­sored past sports bet­ting leg­is­la­tion, said the bill’s fail­ure could put Mary­land at a com­pet­i­tive dis­ad­van­tage. “It’s a shame that all our neigh­bor­ing states and com­pet­ing casi­nos are go­ing to be up and run­ning with this new amenity for their cus­tomers,” he said.

In­deed, in the Dis­trict, one coun­cil mem­ber said he’d like to

get bet­ting in place be­fore Mary­land and Vir­ginia do, so gam­blers from across the re­gion can spend their dol­lars in Wash­ing­ton.

“This is a source of enor­mous rev­enue, and we need to move for­ward as quickly as pos­si­ble,” said coun­cil mem­ber Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), who’s plan­ning to in­tro­duce a bill.

But first, Evans — who was a driv­ing force be­hind bring­ing Ma­jor League Baseball back to Wash­ing­ton and build­ing the pub­licly fi­nanced Nats Park — said he’s try­ing to sort out ques­tions, such as where rev­enue from sports bets should go.

“Gam­bling has al­ways been a mixed bag in the Dis­trict. When we looked at casino gam­bling, there was a lot of op­po­si­tion to it, par­tic­u­larly from churches,” Evans said. “I per­son­ally want to make this hap­pen, but it’s a long road.”

Vir­ginia, un­like Mary­land, has so far re­sisted any form of casino gam­bling. Its con­ser­va­tive leg­is­la­ture turned away river­boat gam­bling in the 1990s, out­lawed In­ter­net gam­bling cafes in the 2000s and has kept a casino bill bot­tled up in a Se­nate com­mit­tee for the past five years.

But mo­men­tum for gam­bling in the com­mon­wealth is get­ting a push from the pop­u­lar­ity of the MGM Na­tional Har­bor casino just across the Po­tomac River in Mary­land, which es­ti­mates that at least 40 per­cent of its busi­ness comes from Vir­ginia.

Dur­ing the first four months of this year, Mary­land’s six casi­nos hauled in more than $414 mil­lion, with nearly $150 mil­lion of that go­ing to state and lo­cal cof­fers.

Vir­ginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) has taken note and said it may be time for some­thing sim­i­lar in his state. On sports bet­ting, his of­fice was non­com­mit­tal this week. “We are still re­view­ing the rul­ing and should the Gen­eral Assem­bly take up leg­is­la­tion on this is­sue, we’d re­view that as well,” Northam spokes­woman Ofi­rah Yh­eskel said in an email.

The Supreme Court struck down a fed­eral law that kept most states from au­tho­riz­ing sports bet­ting, rul­ing in favor of New Jersey, which had chal­lenged the statute.

That state has been pre­par­ing for le­gal­ized sports wa­ger­ing since 2012, and many lo­ca­tions are ready to move quickly. Mon­mouth Park, a race­track on the Jersey Shore, says it could open bet­ting win­dows within the next two weeks. Delaware could also have bet­ting win­dows open soon, and other states are poised to fol­low. A 2017 re­port from Eilers & Kre­j­cik Gam­ing es­ti­mated that as many as 32 states could of­fer le­gal sports bet­ting within five years.

Ex­perts sug­gest that il­le­gal sports bet­ting in the United States is a $50 bil­lion to $150 bil­lion busi­ness, though it’s prob­a­bly im­pos­si­ble to ac­cu­rately es­ti­mate. Ac­cord­ing to re­search by UNLV’s Cen­ter for Gam­ing Re­search, le­gal sports bet­ting in Ne­vada to­taled nearly $5 bil­lion last year, led by wa­gers on foot­ball — both col­lege and pro­fes­sional — which ac­counted for $1.76 bil­lion.

Many in the gam­bling and sports in­dus­tries in the D.C. re­gion have greeted the Supreme Court’s rul­ing en­thu­si­as­ti­cally.

“The Court’s de­ci­sion is both a vic­tory for state’s rights and for the mil­lions of Amer­i­cans who want to legally bet on sports in a safe, reg­u­lated en­vi­ron­ment,” Joe Wein­berg, man­ag­ing part­ner of Mary­land casino de­vel­oper Cordish Com­pa­nies, said in a state­ment. “Sports bet­ting should be made avail­able ex­clu­sively through the reg­u­lated casi­nos in Mary­land, where it is best po­si­tioned to pro­tect con­sumers and max­i­mize tax rev­enues to the state.”

Wash­ing­ton Wizards, Cap­i­tals and Mys­tics owner Ted Leon­sis also said he’s ea­ger to em­brace le­gal­ized bet­ting, though he said there are “a huge num­ber of ques­tions” about how the court’s de­ci­sion will play out.

“Many ask if this de­ci­sion will im­pact the in­tegrity of sports them­selves,” Leon­sis said in a state­ment. “I think it’s just the op­po­site. I think that the in­creased trans­parency that will ac­com­pany more le­gal­ized bet­ting around the coun­try will only fur­ther pro­tect against po­ten­tial cor­rup­tion.”

“We need to move for­ward as quickly as pos­si­ble.” D.C. Coun­cil Mem­ber Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), who is plan­ning to in­tro­duce a bill to au­tho­rize sports gam­bling

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