Anyone who has followed sports gambling’s sluggish stumble to legality in Washington was bound to worry about the final product once it went live. The city initially hoped to have sports gambling ready in time for the 2019 NFL season, but after the D.C. Council awarded a no-bid contract to Intralot in July 2019, the city was sued over the process by which the Greek gaming company was awarded the contract. Then the novel coronavirus pandemic hit, shutting down nearly all sports across the globe, and there was little left upon which to wager.

But on Thursday, the city’s mobile sports gambling platform, called GambetDC, went live in what the D.C. Office of Lottery and Gaming is calling a “soft launch” (the platform is only available via web browser at the moment; an app will start accepting bets early next month). And based on initial observations, it’s very much a work in progress.

To start with, the odds offered are terrible compared with other mobile sportsbooks around the country (many states have partnered with established companies such as DraftKings and FanDuel), giving the house a much bigger edge in D.C. than elsewhere.

Every sports bettor needs to be familiar with how a sportsbook makes money. Most books do not have a vested interest in the outcome of a game but want to profit regardless of the final result. To do so, they take a percentage from every bet wagered, also known as the vig or juice.

Let’s take the NFL Week 1 matchup between the Philadelphia Eagles and Washington Redskins. As of Thursday afternoon, DraftKings was offering the Eagles as a -286 moneyline favorite (bet $286 dollars to win $100) and the Redskins as a +225 underdog (win $225 for every $100 wagered). This equals a vig of 4.86 percent, which is on par with the industry standard for juice charged on a typical NFL wager. Looked at another way, the total of each team’s chances to win the game has to equal 100 percent, with the excess being held by the sportsbook as profit.

GambetDC, on the other hand, is offering the Eagles as a -312 favorite and the Redskins as a +210 underdog, creating a vig of 7.99 percent, a huge increase in the amount of profit for the sportsbook. You would save approximately 61 percent of the cost you would have to pay by betting the game on DraftKings rather than on the DC Lottery site.

In addition to the wager costing more, you also have to be a more efficient bettor to break even. Betting with DraftKings at a near 5 percent vig gives a bettor a 51 percent break-even rate, while going with the prices offered by GambetDC requires a 52 percent break-even rate. A 1 percent difference might not sound like much, but it adds up quickly and is a big reason savvy bettors will shop around for the best price.

It’s hardly surprising that the odds at GambetDC are so bad. Intralot also has the contract for mobile sports gambling in Montana, which also turned to the Greek company without accepting other bids. Observers also have noticed bad prices in the Treasure State. D.C. sports gamblers looking to bet from home might also not have any (legal) alternatives: While sportsbooks operated by established companies such as William Hill and Caesars Entertainment will be coming to Washington sports arenas, the Intralot offering is the only mobile platform that will be available citywide.

GambetDC also must work through some technical issues. While trying to register for the site on a laptop, one of the authors encountered a recurring error involving the verification of his location within the Washington city limits (an image of the insurmountable error message is posted at the top of this article). A live online chat with a GambetDC employee did not solve the problem (though she was quite responsive). Eventually, an account was created via cellphone browser, though the location verification was again somewhat wonky. Plus, registration requires the user to upload a photo of government-issued identification, an invasive step not seen at places such as DraftKings or FanDuel.

Depositing money into a gambling account was comparatively seamless (as handing over money to the house usually is): A credit card number was entered and the initial deposit went through. The site also accepts payments via Skrill and something called Instant ACH, though when clicking on the latter it simply takes users to Skrill.

But, alas, when one of the authors went to place a tiny wager on Martin Truex Jr. to win Wednesday night’s NASCAR race in Charlotte, he received a “Waiting for geolocation....” notice, even though he had successfully downloaded the proper geolocation app and proved his D.C. residency. The wager ended up going unplaced.

Truex’s Washington-based odds were dismal, anyway: +150 at GambetDC compared with +500 at DraftKings (meaning $100 would win $150 in D.C. but $500 if the bet had been placed on the latter).

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