Evans says the District should act quickly to dominate a new gambling market in the Washington region — a potential boon for city coffers.
Legislatures in neighboring Maryland — which has casinos — and Virginia — which is warming to gambling after long resisting it — have not yet legalized sports betting.
The closest place for Washingtonians to bet on games is Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races in West Virginia, about a 75-minute drive from the D.C. downtown in light traffic.
“We can be first and get a lot of money or 51st and not get any,” Evans said at a council breakfast before he introduced the legislation.
In May, the Supreme Court struck down a federal law that kept most states from authorizing sports betting, ruling in favor of New Jersey, which had challenged the statute. A 2017 report from Eilers & Krejcik Gaming estimated that as many as 32 states could offer legal sports betting within five years.
Evans’s bill would tax sports betting operators 10 percent of their gross revenue every month. He had no estimate of the size of the market in the District or how much the government would collect. The city would charge $50,000 for a five-year license for gambling operators.
Half of the tax revenue is earmarked to subsidize early-childhood care and similar programs, with the rest dedicated to fund the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities. If those programs are fully funded, leftover money would go to the city’s discretionary general fund.
Gambling revenue tends to be short-lived for governments because of competition from other jurisdictions legalizing different forms of gambling, according to a July report from the Pew Charitable Trusts. New Jersey made $325,000 in tax revenue from sports betting in July, the first full month the practice was legalized.
A majority of the council supports the bill. Evans says he’s drafting the legislation with the offices of Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) and D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D).
Mendelson told The Washington Post that he dislikes legalized gambling but that he would help Evans’s bill pass because he thinks it’s in the best interest of the city.
“We are going to see — state after state will amend their laws to support sports gambling,” Mendelson said. “It’s clear that residents have long accepted . . . gambling of the nature like the lottery and Internet sports gambling as acceptable, so it’s important to amend the law to reflect the Supreme Court’s actions.”
The mayor’s office was more enthusiastic.
“The Mayor supports Councilmember Evans’ efforts to make sports betting a viable revenue source for our growing needs,” John Falcicchio, Bowser’s chief of staff, said in a statement. “Sports betting can help us fund critical programs, create jobs for District residents and allow visitors and commuters to further participate in our economy.”
The District’s chief financial officer would regulate sports betting under Evans’s bill, such as setting a maximum wager. The agency already oversees the D.C. Lottery.
“The lottery has worked with Councilman Evans providing technical assistance in order so that it will be able to regulate and operate the program should the council and mayor approve it in a way that maximizes the return to the District,” said David Umansky, spokesman for Chief Financial Officer Jeffrey S. DeWitt.
Evans’s bill prohibits athletes, coaches and referees from placing wagers on any game.
Council members Vincent C. Gray (D-Ward 7), Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3), Brandon T. Todd (D-Ward 4), Anita Bonds (D-At Large) and Robert C. White Jr. (D-At Large) have co-introduced the sports betting bill.
Nevada has long allowed sports betting. New Jersey, Delaware, Mississippi and West Virginia have passed similar laws.