Nationals’ new entertainment venue brings up sportsbook question

May 2, 2019

For decades, gambling was associated with the darkest, most-scandalous episodes of American sports from the 1919 Chicago Black Sox to college basketball’s point-shaving in the 1950s to Pete Rose in the 1980s.

These days, gambling’s becoming as much a part of the games as cheerleaders and the national anthem.

Nowhere is that more evident than in the nation’s capital, where the city’s sports teams are racing to take advantage of the trend.

The Washington Nationals received approval from Events D.C., the city’s convention and sports authority, to build a 35,000 square-foot restaurant and entertainment venue at Nationals Park, the Washington Business Journal reported. For the deal to be finalized, the D.C. Council must also approve it.

Barring a snag, the venue featuring a bar and lounge area, screen wall, performance area and a rooftop terrace could be a sportsbook, in theory.

While the Nationals have not confirmed their plans for the space, the area sounds very similar to Wizards and Capitals owner Ted Leonsis’ intent to transform the Greene Turtle restaurant at Capital

One Arena into a sportsbook.

Nationals owner Mark Lerner told WTOP in March his team was planning on having a sportsbook venue at their ballpark.

“We’ve got our plans on how we’re going to do it, and it’s going to take a little bit of time, but we’re excited about the opportunity,” Lerner said. “I think it’s going to be a great thing for the city.”

D.C. Council members passed a law in December that not only legalized sports betting, but also allows for the city’s sports venues to host gambling.

Leonsis, meanwhile, has been a big proponent of teams taking advantage of sports gambling. NBC Sports Washington, which Leonsis owns a stake in, introduced alternative broadcasts for Wizards games that integrated gambling elements this past season.

In May 2018, when the Supreme Court struck down the law that banned sports gambling, Leonsis praised the court’s decision saying it brought a “multibillion-dollar industry out of the shadows and into the sunlight.”

“Legalized sports betting will only bring fans closer to the game, ramping up the action in each minute and creating more intensity,” Leonsis wrote on his website. “It will bring new revenue into the economy, creating jobs and growing our tax base. Today’s decision is a great one for sports fans and I am eager to embrace it.”

Leonsis first announced in early March that the Greene Turtle, the restaurant attached to Capital One Arena, would be closing after the Wizards’ season. Then three weeks later, at the “Sports Betting Executive Summit,” he confirmed his plans to change the space into a sportsbook.

Eight states Nevada, Delaware, New Jersey, Mississippi, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, New Mexico and Rhode Island have legal, regulated sports betting at the moment.

Tennessee’s state Legislature passed a law Tuesday that would allow for online sports betting, and that’s expected to begin on July 1.

The Louisiana Senate also voted to permit sports betting this week and the legislation now heads to the state’s House. The D.C. Council voted to approve sports gambling in December and it was approved to be fast-tracked in February.