We would like to disagree. We’ve never warmed to the idea of government relying on gambling to support itself. But Mr. Evans is right about the inevitable effect of the Supreme Court decision overturning the federal law that banned commercial sports betting in most states. In the wake of the court’s May decision, a number of states — including New Jersey, West Virginia and Delaware — have passed laws authorizing sports betting, and many more are considering legislation.
Estimates of illegal sports betting in the United States vary from $107 billion to $150 billion annually, so it is no wonder states are trying to cash in. Nevada, exempted from the old federal ban, saw $4.8 billion in wagers in 2017, resulting in $248.8 million in revenue for the state.
Getting in early is seen as an advantage in capturing the local market and building brand affinity and loyalty. That’s why Mr. Evans thinks it’s important for the District to act before Maryland or Virginia. He has sponsored legislation that he hopes to get through the council and on the mayor’s desk by the end of the year. The measure would establish the D.C. Lottery, administered by the city’s chief financial officer, as both a regulator and operator of sports betting. In addition to licensing and monitoring independent operators, the lottery would offer a district-wide digital platform and a network of brick-and-mortar retailers. Licenses would cost $50,000 and be good for five years; Mr. Evans envisions that the major venues would include Nationals Park, Audi Field and Capital One Arena.
There are a number of questions the council should address. Are there strong consumer protections? What about safeguards to prevent children and other young people from betting? Should money be earmarked to address gambling addiction? Can wagering be limited to professional sports? And why should the bill earmark the tax revenue to the Commission on the Arts and Humanities and early-childhood education? In its rush to enter what it hopes will be a lucrative market, the District needs to be careful not to create problems it will later regret.