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Washington D.C. Considers Fast-Tracking Sports Betting

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This week, the Washington D.C. council’s Committee of Finance and Revenue made a move in preparation for sports betting becoming active, considering fast-tracking implementation by bypassing the bidding process and allowing DC Lottery to administer sports betting.

In a four-hour meeting on Monday, the council discussed bidding with many of the panel’s members and members of the public arguing a transparent process should be considered.

This meeting comes just days after the district’s mayor, Muriel Bowser, signed the Sports Wagering Lottery Amendment Act. Her signature comes little more than a month after the District of Columbia council passed the measure and was sent to Congress for approval.

If Congress doesn’t take up the measure in another 30 days, the district is free to move forward with implementation, possibly as early as fall, which includes a D.C. Lottery mobile app as the preferred way of wagering.

Washington’s’ four major sports arenas also would operate sportsbooks.

At Monday’s hearing, the council’s finance committee chair Jack Evans said the panel would meet Wednesday to further consider a sole-contract option.

Jefferey DeWitt, the Washington D.C. chief finance officer, believes the district would lose tens of millions opening the contract to bids, making a case for negotiating with Intralot, the contractor now operating the lottery.

He said he usually would be supportive of open bidding but called this “and unusual situation.” He called it a “unicorn” opportunity.

Councilwoman Elissa Silverman voiced caution at the no-bid option. “What our city’s chief financial offer is advocating for in this legislation is quite extraordinary,” she said. “A competitive bid process is not only considered a general best practice for both getting a price that is in the best interest of the taxpayer but also a process that is transparent and not subject to political pressure. And that’s certainly been an issue with our lottery contracting in the past.”

Dorothy Brizill, executive director of DC Watch and longtime government watchdog, said “many people don’t even realize a gambling parlor can be opening down the street from them … it just smells … it just smells.”

The gaming industry too pushed the benefits of competition in betting.

“Competition for DC’s sports betting consumers would lead to more revenue for DC,” according to John Pappas of iDEA Growth, an association seeking to expand online gaming and grow gaming industry jobs. “The council should not be debating whether to fast track a sole source contract, rather it should be shifting gears to ensure that DC gets the most out of a fully competitive market place.”

Council members Kenyan McDuffie and Robert White, among others, also questioned if minority contractors are being shut out or included in the burgeoning sports lottery business.

A report prepared by Spectrum Gaming Group seems to have fueled the anti-bid supporters, saying the district could lose millions if it followed the bidding process.

According to the document, it may take three years to find a betting supplier, opening the door for neighboring states, Maryland and Virginia which are pursuing sports betting legislation, to lure bettors to their states.  Spectrum says by skipping bidding and moving forward with Intralot moves the implementation timeline up, with betting happening in the district possibly by fall 2019.

The sole-purpose plan will likely come up for a vote on Feb. 5.