The gambling conglomerate is working on a permanent sportsbook in the space formerly occupied by the Greene Turtle Sports Bar and Grille, but construction was delayed by complications related to the coronavirus pandemic.
With the return of live sports, though, William Hill and Monumental Sports and Entertainment, which owns the arena, wanted to get a sportsbook up and running quickly. So they converted the arena’s ticket box office area, dormant in the absence of Wizards and Capitals games this spring, into a temporary betting site.
Ticket windows will be used to place sports wagers, and nine electronic kiosks will also be spread across the space. The sportsbook will be open seven days a week, from 11 a.m. until 11 p.m. The space opened Friday afternoon, just hours after the team secured its licensing from city officials and shortly before the Wizards tipped off their first game of the NBA’s restarted season in Florida.
“It was really driven by the announcement of when sports would resume,” Joe Asher, William Hill’s chief executive, said in a phone interview this week. “Baseball just started up, and the NBA and NHL are starting again. … And so with sports back, we wanted to try to get a temporary facility open as soon as we could.”
The sportsbook becomes the first dedicated gambling destination in the city since sports betting was legalized in December 2018. The city contracted with Intralot, a Greek gaming company that also operates the District’s lottery, to run a citywide sports betting operation. Intralot’s online betting platform, GambetDC, began accepting bets in late May.
The city’s sports-betting law also allows Monumental, as well as the Nationals and D.C. United, to host large-scale sportsbooks near their respective stadiums.
In February, D.C. United struck a deal with Caesars Entertainment but has yet to announce any plans for a sportsbook at Audi Field. The Nationals, meanwhile, hope to build a 35,000-square-foot entertainment venue attached to its stadium but also have not released any details about sports-betting plans.
Monumental announced plans last October for William Hill to operate the Las Vegas-style sportsbook at Capital One Arena. Ted Leonsis, head of Monumental and a major proponent of sports gambling, has likened the relationship to that of a landlord and tenant, stressing that Monumental and its sports teams will be far removed from the betting activity.
“We think it’s certainly an exciting moment for us, and we think it’s a really great engagement opportunity for our fans,” said Jim Van Stone, president of business operations for Monumental Sports. “Our fans are passionate about sports, and although we can’t host events at the current time, their ability to come down here and potentially place a bet on one of their favorite teams is a great engagement opportunity for us.”
Asher said the sportsbook will follow city health regulations and guidelines set forth by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Bettors will be required to socially distance and wear masks inside the sportsbook. The kiosks will be regularly sanitized as well, Asher said.
William Hill operates 169 sportsbooks across the country, mostly in Las Vegas, and was eager to launch in the Washington market. Asher said the past few weeks have shown the growing appetite for wagering from fans who have been subsisting off a paltry sports diet these past four months.
When the sports world effectively shut down in March, gambling ground to a halt. As events slowly started up — the UFC, NASCAR and golf, for starters — the bookmaker saw huge spikes. In the first week of major league baseball, betting was up 50 to 100 percent over the same period last year at William Hill betting sites across the country. “So we’re clearly seeing a bunch of pent-up demand,” Asher said.
Capital One Arena will offer William Hill’s full complement of wagers, though Asher said there probably will be an emphasis on betting lines involving D.C. teams and athletes.
“But broadly speaking, it’ll be similar to what you’d get in Las Vegas,” he said.
While the D.C. law allows the company to offer mobile betting in the facility or in the immediate vicinity of the arena, Asher said only in-person betting will be offered immediately.
William Hill still hopes to open its glitzy Vegas-style sportsbook this year, replete with flat-screen televisions, food and drinks. He said permitting and construction were delayed by coronavirus concerns but that demolition is now complete. Asher is targeting a fall opening.
“For us, in the long term, getting people back in the building once we get through this pandemic situation is something we’re all truly excited about,” Van Stone said. “We think completion of the sportsbook, once it’s fully operational come the latter part of the fall, is really going to be a game-changer for us.”