NBA’s Adam Silver Helps Celebrate In-Arena Betting at Capital One Arena

Written By Dann Stupp on June 1, 2021
Adam Silver

NBA head honcho Adam Silver was among the throngs who witnessed the opening of the first in-arena sportsbook in the US.

This past week, William Hill unveiled a dedicated retail sportsbook at Capital One Arena in Washington, DC. Unlike Virginia, where all sports betting is currently done online, DC sports bettors can now wager in person.

As a result, Capital One Arena became the first US sports venue to have an on-site and operational retail sports betting outlet. Bettors began placing their bets on Wednesday, May 26, with the official opening.

Then, this past Saturday, May 29, the NBA Playoffs continued as the Washington Wizards hosted the Philadelphia 76ers. As it does for all Wizards’ home games, Capital One Arena played host.

With the new sportsbook, plenty of bettors were ready to place their legal NBA wagers on game day. Another notable was also on hand for the milestone event: Adam Silver, the NBA commissioner.

Adam Silver among Capital One Arena visitors

The Wizards lost, 132-103, to the 76ers on Saturday night as five-point underdogs. With the lopsided defeat, Washington began the best-of-seven series in a 0-3 hole.

Despite the setback for the home team, Washington, DC sports bettors were out in full force.

In fact, it’s one reason that Silver, who’s long championed legal sports betting, toured the 18,000-square-foot facility with 76ers owner Josh Harris before tip-off.

ESPN writer David Purnam, who extensively covers the sports betting industry, reported on that opening day. Capital One Arena previously had temporary betting stalls at the box office. Now, though, the William Hill sportsbook is a permanent, swanky, two-story sports-betting cathedral.

William Hill executive Dan Shapiro told Purnam that the sportsbook had its biggest day of betting ever at the arena on Saturday. As Purnam wrote:

“Betting was allowed on the 76ers-Wizards game at the arena sportsbook. The game accounted for 40% of the money wagered on the NBA at the Washington, D.C., sportsbook on the day, according to data provided by William Hill. Shapiro said the DC book won ‘a little’ on the 76ers’ 132-103 victory over the underdog Wizards but suffered a net loss on a day that saw all four NBA favorites cover the spread.”

Silver and others were impressed

Adam Silver penned an influential New York Times column in 2014 in support of legal sports betting.

Prior to the piece, the NBA and nearly every other sports organization of note were staunchly anti-betting. Publicly, anyway.

Silver’s column, though, argued that sports leagues and executives were losing the battle. If people are betting anyway, he pondered, why not move toward a legal market in the US? Why not aim for transparency and regulation? The Supreme Court complied a few years later and struck down PASPA.

Of course, as we’ve seen during a flurry of deals between leagues and sportsbooks in recent years, there was also a financial incentive for these leagues.

Still, it was appropriate that Silver was on hand for Saturday’s history-making sportsbook opening.

But he was hardly the only satisfied party. Sports bettors were clearly impressed with the retail DC sportsbook, which features 17 in-person betting windows and 12 self-service betting kiosks. The Willian Hill mobile app is also operational in the arena and the few blocks around it.

I’m in sports heaven,” one Twitter use wrote while posting a picture of the new Capital One Arena sportsbook. “Super nice,” DC native and former WNBA player Monique Currie wrote. “It looks beautiful,” one bettor told “By the Book” hosts Michael Jenkins and Meghan McPeak, whose show now airs from the in-sportsbook studio at Capital One Arena, also had rave reviews of their new digs.

NBA focuses on responsible gaming

While a guest on Saturday’s pregame show, Silver discussed responsible gaming with NBC Sports Washington’s Wizards Insider Chris Miller.

Legal sports betting has been a boon for the NBA and other major sports leagues. However, Silver knows there could be some pitfalls. That’s why he specifically mentioned European soccer and other international markets with legal and regulated markets.

Still, with the country’s first in-arena sportsbook, Capital One Arena and Willian Hill are going to have to find the right balance when it comes to promotion and marketing.

“I applaud what (Wizards owner Ted Leonsis) is doing here in Washington,” Silver told NBC Sports Washington. “At the same time, I think it’s very important that there be a regulatory framework both from the state and federal level, but then also from the league as well, to look out for problematic gambling.

“(We need) to make sure that we strike the right balance in the amount of betting promotion that happens around our games.”

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Dann Stupp

Dann Stupp is a longtime sports journalist who’s written and edited for The Athletic, USA Today, ESPN, and other outlets. He lives in Lexington, Virginia.

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