Washington, D.C – the capital of the United States. A district full of politicians, lawyers, and lobbyists gambling on their political futures. However, where does the District stand on actual forms of gambling? This is a topic that has come under debate over the years, and this page will outline how the District of Columbia deals with all forms of gambling.
It is important to remember that Washington, D.C. is not a state – as a district, it operates under different sets of laws than many of the traditional states. It is also a very small geographic region of the country, with the majority of its population commuting from other surrounding states. This, without question, has impacted the District’s position on gambling as a whole over the years.
Sports Betting in D.C.
Let’s start with the topic that has seen the most movement in the last couple of years. Residents of Washington, D.C. had a ringside seat for the final round of the battle between the state of New Jersey and the professional sports leagues in the U.S. The Supreme Court heard the final arguments from both sides, deliberated and ultimately changed the shape of the gaming industry altogether by ruling to repeal PASPA in May 2018. This allowed any state to be able to draft sports betting legislation and to finally be able to offer legal sports betting to its constituents.
The District of Columbia decided to get into the act soon after the Supreme Court decision and became one of the first states to approve sports betting at the end of that year. This was an amendment to the Lottery Act for D.C. and would make the Lottery the group overseeing sports betting in the district.
Unfortunately, due to many challenges (some outlined below), at the end of 2019, there was still no legal sports betting in the state. Applications for the two types of licenses are being accepted as of December 3, 2019. The two licenses being offered are as follows:
Class A: Open to only the four sports arenas in the district, comes with a $250,000 license fee.
Class B: Open to any establishment that wants a license that isn’t within two blocks of the 4 Class A license holders, with a $50,000 license fee.
Online Sports Betting
Online sports betting is included with the legislation that passed in 2018, but it is the area that has been the most contested since the ruling. According to the law, the only online license belongs to the Lottery, and the awarded it to their lottery vendor Intralot as part of a massive renewal of lottery products. Many complained that the deal didn’t give any other group a chance to bid, and one group went as far as to sue the Lottery for this monopolistic behavior. Even though a judge issued an injunction forcing the stoppage of building the mobile solution, it was finally deemed that the deal was legit.
There is no exact launch date for online sports betting in D.C. Intralot suggests it will be in Q1 2020, but there are no guarantees. For those looking to play online games now, they can head to one of the offshore sites that are available to players within the District.
Horse Betting in D.C.
There are no horse tracks in Washington; however the closest track is only 40 minutes outside the city. This gives horse betting fans one of their only legal options for betting on the ponies. All land-based OTB betting shops are also illegal in D.C., although with the sports betting expansion, it is always possible that this will change in the future.
Online Horse Betting
In some states where there is no land-based pari-mutuel wagering, companies like Twinspires have been able to use their Oregon license to allow bettors the opportunity to bet on their favorite horses or tracks. However, online horse betting is explicitly against the law in D.C., so these online pari-mutuel companies block users from the region. A crafty gambler could drive across the border to Maryland and make wagers from there on these sites.
Casino Gambling in D.C.
As with most forms of gambling, casinos are prohibited in D.C., aside from charity-type events that exist all over the district. While there are casinos in neighboring states, with the closest being 90 mins drive away, it is more of an excursion then many players are interested in taking. There is no discussion that we know of regarding the addition of a land-based casino inside the D.C. borders.
Online Casinos in D.C.
Even though the sports betting bill made its way through into law in D.C. in 2018, there has been no mention of adding online casino or poker into the mix. This is shocking given the amount of lobby that is done in that town to make these games available across the country. On the flipside, however, is the amount of money that Sheldon Adelson has spent in Washington pushing his agenda of making online gambling illegal. With the change to sports betting law and the repeal of PASPA, the needle is definitely moving in the right direction for those who are keen to play online casino games in a regulated environment. For now, anyone who is hoping to play some slots on their phones is relegated to playing at offshore-based casinos that take bets from American players. This is not something that we recommend despite the number of players who do send their money to these sites from the U.S. on an annual basis.
D.C. Gambling FAQ
Is sports betting legal in D.C.?
Well, technically sports betting is legal in the District. The Lottery Act was expanded in late 2018 to allow for both land-based and online sports betting for residents and transients of the nation’s capital. However, the legislation has been tied up in red tape for most of 2019, and only in early December was the application process opened for both the Class A and Class B licenses. However, at least the process has begun, putting D.C. ahead of many of the other U.S. jurisdictions.
When will sports betting be legal in D.C.?
Again, this is difficult to say precisely. There are some provisions in the law that allow license holders that use vendors already approved in other states to fast-track their launch. This could mean that we could see land-based betting in D.C. in early 2020. However, as none of the licenses have been approved and the estimated waiting period for approval is 30-45 days, it is more likely that we won’t see betting before the end of Q1 2020.
As for online betting, with only one operator allowed to have an app right now, bettors are at the mercy of Intralot’s timeframe. The latest indication is that they will be ready for launch in Q1 2020 as well.
What is the best online sportsbook for residents of D.C.?
As mentioned above, D.C. residents may not have a choice when it comes to playing online with a regulated sportsbook – currently, there is only one that will be operational. The hope is that the district will create a more competitive landscape, but seeing that the agreement with Intralot was upheld in a court challenge in the fall of 2019, it is unlikely that we are going to see that happen anytime soon.
D.C. residents do still have the option of playing at one of the offshore sportsbooks that are open for business. However, those do come with a potential risk of loss of funds with no recourse. While those incidences have decreased in recent years, the trouble of getting money to and from these Caribbean-based sites continues and tends to leave many casual gamblers frustrated. Our suggestion is to simply wait for the legal option to become available and start your online journey then.