Neighborhood Commission Trying To Block DC Sports Betting Bar Handle19

Posted on October 16, 2020

NIMBYism has found its way to DC sports betting.

A DC Advisory Neighborhood Commission put off voting on whether to support the liquor license for Handle19 after a group of residents came out in opposition to having a sports betting venue in their neighborhood.

This is the first time the “not in my backyard” attitude has been applicable to sports betting. The District of Columbia is the first US jurisdiction to authorize betting at retail establishments.

States with legalized sports betting tend to have it at existing gaming facilities such as casinos, racetracks, and off-track betting parlors.

Under the D.C. law, Class B licenses can go to businesses that aren’t solely based on sports betting. These can include bars, restaurants, sports arenas, and hotels.

Ian Thomas, an attorney at Offit Kurman who represents Handle19, spoke with PlayVirginia about the issues the sports betting bar is facing with the neighborhood activists.

Residents rally against DC sports betting bar

Handle 19 is an underdog story. As jurisdictions in the US have legalized sports wagering, large casino and sports betting companies have dominated the landscape.

Shane August is trying to become the first individual to open a sportsbook bar and restaurant in the US. The businessman is a former college quarterback for Norfolk State University.

Standing in his way is a small but vocal group of people who live near the proposed site in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of DC.

A petition posted on the website stophillgambling.com titled “Don’t mix alcohol, gambling, and kids on the Hill” received 55 signatures.

Many of those signers voiced their disapproval at the Advisory Neighborhood Commission’s Alcohol Beverage Control Committee last week.

Objections to DC sports betting facility

Residents don’t want a sports betting facility in their community. They expressed the following concerns on how a sports wagering operation would affect the neighborhood:

  • Handle19’s proposed location is in the middle of a primarily residential area that hundreds of young families and children call home.
  • This type of establishment would attract an undesirable element into the community.
  • Drunk patrons who have lost money betting on games will spill out onto the surrounding residential streets in front of homes with sleeping young children and older adults.
  • How will the establishment handle parking and traffic concerns?
  • The mix of sports wagering and the sale of alcohol during the hours when kids would be leaving school.

“I think it speaks to how uninformed the public is at the moment as to what goes into sports wagering in the District of Columbia,” Thomas said. “I think people when they think of a sports wagering establishment picture a saloon in the wild, wild west.

“Handle19 has been working to try and educate the neighborhood and public at large as to what a 21st century sports book is going to look like. It’s going to have safety protocols in place, responsible gaming protocols in place, and lots of other regulations with which it will need to comply.”

Handle19’s response to community complaints

Thomas shared with PlayVirginia these points he is making to address those concerns:

  • Handle19 drafted a responsible gaming plan with the assistance of the National Council on Problem Gambling.
  • The majority of sports wagered on don’t take place during school hours.
  • Handle19 is taking over a location that has served as a bar for the past 25 years. The street has two other bars, a liquor store, and four restaurants that serve alcohol.
  • Handle19 is talking to the DC Police Department about paying to have the area patrolled more often to address security concerns.

“I think there’s a lot of support for our business in the community,” Thomas said. “The unfortunate part is there’s a small group that is very vocal against it. I think there’s a large group of people who are agnostic or in support of our business, but not so much that they want to take three-to-four hours out of their day to come out and rally support.”

Next steps for Handle19

The neighborhood commission deferred the deadline to file a protest of the liquor license to Nov. 13. The liquor license includes a sports wagering designation.

During that time, Thomas said Handle19 will work with the commission to address the concerns of the community.

If a settlement agreement is reached, Thomas expects the liquor license to get immediate approval from the Alcohol Beverage Regulatory Administration (ABRA) and final approval by the DC Lottery. If the sides cannot reach a settlement, ABRA would hold a hearing on the matter in January.

Handle19’s Class B license application is pending before the DC Office of Lottery and Gaming. Thomas believes Handle19 would be prepared to open soon after receiving its licenses. This despite facing coronavirus challenges in opening up the business.

Bars in DC are required to limit capacity to 50%, close by midnight, and implement a reservation system. Additionally, bartenders can’t work bars where patrons are seated.

“If any business has been hit hardest by COVID-19, it’s the hospitality industry,” Thomas said. “Restaurants and bars are closing, and with those closures go jobs. Our business will provide at least 25 new hospitality jobs to start at a time when DC is hemorrhaging those types of jobs on a daily basis.”

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Matthew Kredell

Matthew has covered efforts to legalize and regulate online gambling since 2007. His reporting on the legalization of sports betting began in 2010 with an article for Playboy Magazine on how the NFL was pushing US money overseas by fighting the expansion of regulated sports betting. A USC journalism alum, Matt started his career as a sportswriter at the Los Angeles Daily News and has written on a variety of topics for Playboy, Men’s Journal, Los Angeles magazine, LA Weekly and ESPN.com.

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