“No different than McDonald’s or Dunkin’ Donuts,” he says, referencing other arena tenants.
But Leonsis is also convinced his deal to host what probably will be the District’s first sports betting operation will have a trickle-down effect that will benefit the bottom line for all of his teams.
“For the leagues, this will be a really, really positive thing,” Leonsis said Thursday. “For the players, it will be a positive thing. We report the revenues for the rent. It grows the salary base; it grows the revenue base.”
Some time next year, British bookmaker William Hill hopes to open the doors on a sportsbook with televisions, betting kiosks and food and drink options, in the space that was previously occupied by the Greene Turtle Sports Bar and Grille. It would provide a daily, year-round sports entertainment option for bettors, not limited to game nights or ticketed fans.
The timeline is still a bit uncertain, but NBA and NHL fans could see a new game-day experience this season before the sportsbook is open. Leonsis said William Hill could place kiosks inside the arena, and it could launch mobile betting as soon as it receives a green light from the District.
The D.C. Council approved a bill legalizing sports betting this past December but is not yet soliciting applications for businesses to host a gambling operation. When it does, William Hill will apply for a license that gives it exclusivity in and around Capital One Arena.
It could be the first place in the city to place a legal sports bet because the District’s deal with a Greek company to manage the citywide operation has been mired in litigation. City officials have said businesses probably would be able to start taking bets by the end of the year, and mobile wagering could be online in early 2020.
“I don’t know how long this is going to take,” Leonsis said following a news conference Thursday. “I’m not rushing the city. William Hill is not rushing the city. However they want us to do this in the light of day, that’s how we will do it.”
William Hill is still finalizing its architectural plans and must go through the permitting process before it can begin work on the Greene Turtle space. When it opens, possibly at some point in 2020, the sportsbook will be a highly visible presence, with heavy branding and advertising during games. Everything is subject to city regulations and NBA and NHL rules, but fans at the games could be apprised of updated odds on the scoreboards and make bets from their phones without leaving their seats. Joe Asher, William Hill’s chief executive, noted that the NHL’s Vegas Golden Knights, who also have partnered with the British sportsbook, post in-game odds and proposition bets on their giant video board between periods.
“We’re clearly going to focus on the local market and try to create more wagering opportunities around the games that will be played in this venue, without a doubt,” Asher said.
William Hill operates about 145 sportsbooks in the United States, the vast majority in Nevada. While mobile wagering can provide the bulk of the business in some places — it accounts for 70 percent of William Hill’s sports bets in Nevada — Asher said the foot traffic around Capital One Arena will make it an attractive in-person destination for sports fans. While the Nationals and D.C. United also have the option of opening a large-scale sportsbook near their respective stadiums, the District’s other betting options probably will be confined to licensed bars, restaurants and small businesses, in addition to a citywide mobile offering.
“This was the trophy asset in the marketplace,” Asher said of Capital One Arena. “Nothing negative on the others, but this is the arena where you have the Stanley Cup champions and the Wizards, equidistant from the White House and the Capitol, and you’re on top of one of the busiest Metro stations. … If you’re going to do one and focus on one, of course this will be the one.”
Leonsis stressed that neither Monumental nor his teams will play any formal role in the gambling operation. They will provide the space to William Hill and make sure their fans are aware of their gambling options.
“We will never touch the money,” he said. “We will always be steps removed from the odds.”
He said William Hill will pay rent, but Monumental will see no revenue-sharing or commissions out of the gambling profits. Monumental consulted with the leagues as it explored its deal with William Hill. Leonsis said it will continue talking to NBA and NHL officials as it formulates a gambling policy for its employees.
Since the Supreme Court effectively struck down the federal law that outlawed sports gambling last year, both leagues have taken on multiple gambling partners and have beefed up staffing to monitor betting data and ensure the integrity surrounding their games. But with Capital One Arena becoming the country’s first sports venue to host a sportsbook, Monumental’s teams will be in proximity to sports gambling, considered taboo and illicit not long ago.
“Everyone will be watching,” Leonsis said. “We understand our social responsibility and that everyone will be watching how this works and how this rolls out.”