Many councilmembers are unimpressed with Washington D.C.’s mobile sports betting progress, and things got feisty in a recent sports wagering roundtable.
Despite lofty expectations, DC Lottery’s GambetDC app has wildly underperformed since being launched in May 2020, and some councilmembers wonder if it’s time for a change. GambetDC is currently the only District-wide betting app available to the public. Private sportsbooks can offer mobile betting, but only within a two-block radius of their retail locations.
GambetDC Coming Up Short On Projections
It’s been an abysmal start for the District’s mobile sports betting app, and Economic and Business Development Chair Kenyan McDuffie is pulling no punches. In his opening statement in last Wednesday’s Sports Wagering Roundtable, McDuffie highlighted that GambetDC was supposed to generate $92 million in revenue from fiscal 2019 to fiscal 2022, but instead has cost the District money.
“From the Council’s perspective, this can’t continue,” McDuffie said. “We cannot continue to scapegoat the pandemic, the federal enclave, and say (that) because we get a greater rate of return on revenue, we should stay the course. Getting the greater share of zero is still zero.”
Executive Director Of DC Lottery Says Things Looking Up
Despite the app’s early shortcomings, Executive Director of DC Lottery, Frank Suarez, says the tides are turning. Suarez blamed losses on startup and marketing costs and says that GambetDC is finally performing ahead of expectations. Suarez also says that GambetDC has an estimated year-to-date transfer of $2.2 million to the District’s general fund, which is more than twice the tax revenue collected from private sportsbooks in the District.
“Now, this is how the model was intended to work, and it is now functioning as designed with the District-operated sportsbook generating a greater share of the profits. The current 38% decline in tax revenue from private operators illustrates how the privately-operated sports wagering model is actually the riskier revenue stream for the District,” Suarez said.
Suarez also said that part of the slow start was underestimating how savvy D.C. sports bettors are. He said the understanding was that there would be far more casual sports bettors that would choose the convenience of the mobile app rather than driving to a private sportsbook retail location. That hasn’t been the case according to McDuffie.
“GambetDC also appears to be underperforming in comparison to in-person or retail sports wagering operations, such as betting windows or on-site mobile options, which is the opposite trend of any other jurisdiction where statewide mobile is available,” McDuffie said.
Suarez now says that GambetDC will be upgrading to a significantly enhanced user experience by the fall and has begun adjusting odds to be more competitive with private sportsbooks.
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Should DC Open Mobile Betting To Private Sportsbooks?
The question of whether or not the law should be changed to open up a competitive mobile sports betting market in D.C. was raised multiple times in Wednesday’s roundtable. Suarez remained adamant that it was not in the District’s best interest.
“Not only would changing the model to privately operated mobile and online model be riskier and provide a lower share of sports wagering profits to the District, but it would also increase regulatory costs,” Suarez said.
Not everyone is buying it.
“You’re basically saying we have stumbled and fumbled into the most ideal system we can have,” Ward 3 Councilmember Mary Cheh said. “We were told we needed a sole-source compact to hurry up and beat the other jurisdictions and all this other stuff; it was all nonsense.”
Since its launch, the GambetDC app has faced heavy criticism for its awkward interface and technical malfunctions. Most notably, the app went offline during this year’s Super Bowl – the biggest sports betting day of the year.
DC Lottery blamed the outage on a software glitch at Intralot, the company with which it signed a five-year contract to run its services.