The rollout of legal sports betting in Washington, D.C. has been noteworthy, but mostly in negative ways. Now, as the DC Lottery director resigns, is this when the organization turn things around?
Beth Bresnahan, who has filled the post of the DC Lottery Executive Director for the past three years, ended her term this past Friday. It’s another in a string of changes in leadership since sports betting began in DC.
DC Lottery director resigns citing personal issues
Bresnahan cited family matters that she could no longer address away from her Massachusetts home as the reason for her resignation. However, it comes just days before what would have been an appearance before D.C. leadership in her official role.
The District Council’s Committee on Business and Economic Development has a hearing on March 10. Bresnahan was on the witness list. On the list of items the committee wanted to cover during the hearing is whether regulated sports betting is bringing in revenues according to projections.
Washington, D.C.’s former Chief Financial Officer Jeffrey Dewitt also recently announced he is vacating that post to take another job, with his final day being March 9. These resignations come just months after a legal controversy over the DC Lottery’s launch of its legal online sportsbook.
The sports betting landscape Bresnahan leaves behind
By statute in D.C., there is only one legal online sportsbook available throughout the district. That’s the lottery’s GambetDC. The law in Washington allows for multiple retail sportsbook licenses and on-site mobile wagering, however.
That currently exists at Capital One Arena. That venue is not only home to the Washington Capitals, Mystics, and Wizards but a William Hill Sportsbook as well. Nationals Park and BetMGM Sportsbook also have a similar arrangement.
This landscape is not only far from ideal but the subject of a court challenge. In October 2019, a superior court judge dismissed an injunction against the DC Lottery moving forward with the contract it gave to sportsbook operator Intralot.
At issue was the exclusivity of the lottery’s contract. A D.C. resident who owned a gambling domain claimed he had no ability to seek a similar contract. Although the injunction dismissal allowed GambetDC to begin operation, D.C. Council Member Jack Evans resigned in the wake of ethics violations in January 2020. Evans was the biggest proponent of the sole operator status.
Regardless of the details of its founding, GambetDC’s performance might actually leave more to be desired. The William Hill retail book at Capital One Arena routinely outperforms it in handle and revenue. In most other jurisdictions, a brick-and-mortar book beating out an online sports betting product is unheard of.
The main issue there is a lack of promotions, a small menu of markets, and non-competitive odds. The lottery also hasn’t moved very quickly on building out the retail sports betting industry in the District, either.
Could a change in leadership move things along?
D.C. law allows bar, restaurant, and tavern owners to seek sports betting licenses. Those licenses allow for the same wagering access as currently takes place at Capital One Arena. That is on-site retail and mobile within a two-block radius.
Thus far, the lottery has moved at a glacial pace at awarding those licenses. At least one applicant, Handle19, is interested. That could contribute to a lack of revenue that D.C. has seen from sports betting, as those license applications carry fees.
It might be that the next person to take the reigns will put more emphasis on approving and procuring those licenses. At this point, there is no clear successor to Bresnahan. Her departure comes as the regulated market for sports betting in Washington, D.C. is anything but thriving. Perhaps a change in leadership is exactly what the lottery needs.