Washington DC was one of the early pioneers in legalized sports betting, approving it at the tail-end of 2018. From 1992, sports betting was against federal law in the United States due to the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA.) PASPA was nullified in December 2018, granting each state the right to choose whether it would legalize and offer sports betting within its borders.
Washington DC lawmakers voted to legalize sports betting in December of 2018 with Bill 22-944, the Sports Wagering Lottery Amendment Act of 2018. The act was officially signed into law in early 2019, and the first bets were placed in 2020.
Since Washington DC doesn’t have any land-based casinos, major sporting arenas, hotels, restaurants, and bars can apply for licenses to operate as retail sportsbooks.
Interestingly, Washington DC is one of the few sports betting markets where retail sportsbooks have proven to be more popular than online sportsbooks. This is mainly because the US government has a monopoly over online sports betting in Washington DC through GameBet DC.
GameBet DC was launched in May 2020 by the District of Columbia lottery. It serves as the only platform that can be used to place sports bets online unless you are within two blocks of the Capital One Arena. The first retail sports bets were placed at William Hill Sportsbook, inside both the Capital One Arena and Nationals Park, in August 2020.
In September 2020 alone, the William Hill Sportsbook saw $12.2 million in betting volume, while the revenue for GameBet DC for the same period was just $3.3 million. This clearly shows that fans of sports betting in DC prefer placing their wagers at retail sportsbooks rather than online sportsbooks.
Welcome Bonus – 100% First Deposit Match up to $500 (Must deposit at least $10)
Available: Anywhere in Washington, DC
Platform: Android, iOS, web browser
Banking methods: Skrill, prepaid cards, online bank transfers
Partnership: Run by the Office of Lottery and Gaming
Welcome Bonus – $500 risk-free bet
Available: Within two blocks of Capital One Arena
Platform: Android, iOS
Welcome Bonus – $600 risk-free bet
Available: Within two blocks of Nationals Park
Platform: Android, iOS, web browser
Fans of sports betting in the Capital City can place wagers on mobile sportsbooks like BetMGM and William Hill if they are within two blocks of Nationals Park or are within two blocks of the William Hill Sportsbook at Capital One Arena.
Fans not at a retail sportsbook or one of the big sports stadiums can only place an online wager via the district lottery and their online platform – GameBet DC. GameBet DC is operated by a Greek company called Intralot.
Fans are reluctant to use GameBet DC for several reasons. One is that you can only place an online wager on this platform when you are within two blocks of either Capital One Arena or Nationals Park.
Overall, retail sportsbooks are far outperforming online sportsbooks. In this regard, Washington DC has bucked the trend of online sportsbooks, vastly beating retail sportsbooks.
One of the significant reasons that GameBet DC is trailing retail sportsbooks is due to the fact that Intralot, the app’s operator, are known for their inferior betting lines, which are said to be rather one-sided. In addition to their poor betting lines, GameBet DC’s vig is significantly higher than that of the competition.
Let’s take a look at a past game and compare the lines offered by GameBet DC to that of the William Hill Sportsbook at the Capital One Arena. We will use the November 22nd, 2020 game between the Tennessee Titans and the Baltimore Ravens to illustrate the point.
Lines offered by GameBet DC: Titans +185 at Ravens -270
Lines offered by William Hill: Titans +200 at Ravens -240
Vig offered by GameBet DC: 8.26%
Vig offered by William Hill: 4.76%
So, if you were to wager $100 on the Titans to beat the Ravens at William Hill, Capital One Arena, you would get a $200 payout. And if you placed the same wager via GameBet DC, your payout would only be $185.
GameBet DC’s vig for that matchup was twice that of Williams Hills, so it’s clear which sportsbook provides better value to fans.
The real issue is that GameBet DC and the district lottery hold a monopoly on online sports betting in Washington, DC, which means they have no reason to offer fans any worthwhile bonuses. DC’s sports betting fans have seen the generous and lucrative welcome bonuses that sportsbooks in other states offer and feel short-changed.
Many fans have taken to traveling to Capital One Arena to place their bets since they think their effort is rewarded when compared to what they give up in payouts for the convenience offered by GameBet DC.
The legal betting age in Washington, DC is 18 years or older. This applies to both online and retail betting.
Currently, all online sports bets must be made via GameBet DC or BetMGM’s app IF you are physically within a two-block radius of Nationals Park.
Wagers cannot be placed on any local college team, even when they're playing outside of the district.
All things to do with sports betting in the District of Columbia are currently regulated by the DC Office of Lottery and Gaming.
It is currently unclear if wagers on eSports are permitted within the District of Columbia.
Online registration can be done remotely from anywhere.
Users must validate their email addresses.
Bets can only be placed if the user is within the District of Columbia.
The app makes use of advanced geo-fencing technology to confirm the location of the user.
Users can place a bet in any of the following locations - Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial, or within two blocks of a major stadium or sporting arena, such as the Capital One Arena and Nationals Park.
After registering with the app, the user will still need to verify their account by providing a scan of one of the following documents:
Social security card
State-issued ID card
Valid government-issued passport
Users can bet on a wide variety of sports, including:
NCAA ( Bets may only be on teams located outside of Washington DC)
The online sports betting market has fallen way below expectations thus far. DC council members initially projected the district’s sports betting industry to generate $17 million by the start of October 2020. However, from its launch in May to the beginning of October 2020, online sports betting has only generated $890,000 in profit for Washington DC.
The future for online sports betting in Capital City looks bleak unless changes are made.
For online sports betting not just to equal the success of retail sportsbooks but exceed it, the following steps should be taken:
Amend the laws to allow legal online casinos
Allow more online sportsbooks to enter the market
End GameBet DC’s monopoly over the online sports betting industry in Washington DC
Unlike other states that offer sports betting, Washington DC does not have any casinos, land-based or online. This means it is up to less traditional venues to offer sportsbooks, like major sporting arenas, hotels, restaurants, and bars. However, these venues must first obtain a license before legally offering retail sports betting or accepting a wage based on a sports event.
Two types of licenses currently permit retail sports betting:
These licenses are open to any major sports arena within Washington DC. Class A licenses are valid for five years and cost $250,000.
Elizabeths East Entertainment and Sports Arena
Capital One Arena (William Hill Sports Book)
Nationals Park (BetMGM Sportsbook)
William Hill’s retail sportsbook operates from Capital One Arena and was launched in May 2021.
This sportsbook offers:
12 ticket windows
Ten self-service booths
Two VIP areas
BetMGM’s retail sportsbook is expected to launch later this year and be located at Nationals Park.
Bars, hotels, and restaurants can apply for a Class B sports betting license if they wish to offer a retail sportsbook. A Class B license costs $50,000 and is valid for five years.
Handle 19 - Washington DC’s inaugural Class B Sportsbook. It will be powered by USBookmaking and has plans to offer a mobile app that fans can use while at the location. Unfortunately, the app will not function anywhere else in the district.
The following locations have already applied for their Class B license but have yet to launch:
Duffy’s Irish Pub
Wet Dog Tavern
Fans looking for an alternative location where they can place a wager could travel to Dover, Delaware. Neighboring states Maryland and Virginia have both legalized sports betting; however, neither currently allow wagering.
Washington DC has a long and rich sporting history that goes back decades. The district’s most popular teams include:
Washington Capitals - NHL
Washington Football Team - NFL
Washington Nationals - MLB
Washington Wizards - NBA
Major sportsbooks like FanDuel and DraftKings challenge licenses in the district, but the council sticks to a single-operator model run by the district lottery.