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D.C. Council moves closer to legalizing sports betting

December 5, 2018

The D.C. Council voted Tuesday in favor of a bill that would allow sports betting in Washington, the first of two votes necessary for the bill to pass.

Council member Jack Evans, a Ward 2 Democrat, introduced the “SportsWagering Lottery Amendment Act of 2018” earlier this fall. The second and final vote is likely to come at the Dec. 18 legislative session, the final one of 2018.

Only Ward 1 Democrat Brianne Nadeau and at-large Independent David Grosso voted against the bill. It marked the first time the full Council held a vote on the matter of sports gaming.

In May, the Supreme Court struck down a 1992 law that limited sports betting outside Nevada, as well as the sort of contests that could be bet upon, ruling that the law infringed on states’ rights. Seven states have since launched their own legal sports betting, including New Jersey, Delaware and West Virginia.

Maryland and Virginia have also introduced bills on the topic and are expected to discuss them next year.

With those states right on track behind Washington, some on the D.C. Council have considered it urgent to pass something before Maryland and Virginia can cut into their market.

But Mr. Grosso, one of the bill’s detractors, felt it was possible they were moving too fast.

“This rush to make D.C. the first jurisdiction in the region to legalize sports betting gives me great pause as we do not fully understand the impact it will have on our communities,” Mr. Grosso said in a statement. “I’m concerned that not only will the revenue generated by this proposal come from the pockets of those who are most vulnerable in our city, but that it is not a reliable long-term funding source for the vital educational and public safety priorities for which the revenue has been dedicated.”

The bill would create two categories of licenses, one for establishments like bars and restaurants and another for the major sports stadiums in city limits: Nationals Park, Capital One Arena, Audi Field and the new Entertainment and Sports Arena in Southeast Washington.

The list originally included RFK Stadium as well, but on Tuesday Council member Charles Allen successfully added an amendment to strike RFK as a potential site for betting. RFK no longer has a professional team as a tenant, and the building is located on federal land where gambling is prohibited by federal law.

Mr. Evans has expressed a desire to have sports betting implemented and ready for the start of the 2019 baseball season.

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