Neighbors aren’t making it easy for Handle19 to acquire its liquor license with a gambling endorsement to offer sports wagering at a Washington, DC, bar/restaurant.
A DC Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) voted 6-2-1 on Tuesday to formally protest Handle19’s liquor license with the DC Alcohol Beverage Regulatory Administration (ABRA).
The ANC purported to make the protest based on “peace, order, and quiet and parking and vehicular/pedestrian safety.”
In the next couple of weeks, ABRA will assign a mediator to try to work out an agreement between Handle19 and the neighborhood commission ahead of a hearing date early next year.
“We’ll continue outreach efforts in advance of that mediation, and we’re hopeful that having a third-party neutral mediator acting between the parties may help get us to where we need to be,” Ian Thomas, an attorney who represents Handle19, told PlayVirginia. “I can’t say I’m overly optimistic, but I’m cautiously optimistic.”
Sports betting entrant runs into NIMBYism
The District of Columbia allows Class B licenses to go to businesses that aren’t solely based on sports betting. These can include bars, restaurants, sports arenas, and hotels.
That set up a unique scenario with sports betting offered outside of the usual gambling venues such as casinos. But it also led to neighbors saying not in my backyard.
Handle19, a Virginia-based company run by former Norfolk State University quarterback Shane August, applied for a Class B license with the DC Office of Lottery and Gaming. However, the liquor license needs to go through the neighborhood commission.
ABRA could still issue a license to Handle19 over the neighborhood commission’s protest, with or without restrictions. By entering into a settlement agreement, the ANC has some measure of control over the process.
“We’re open to reasonable requests,” Thomas said. “We want to be good neighbors and to be there for a long time. We want to be a benefit for the community.”
Sports bettors demonized by neighborhood commission
Thomas tried to have settlement talks with members of the neighborhood in recent weeks. But the response he got was not one of negotiation.
He was surprised by the disdain expressed by many in the community toward people who bet on sports.
“I think it’s really sad that there’s this misconception that everyone who is gambling at our establishment is going to be inebriated, broke, and in the mood to look for trouble when they leave,” Thomas said. “The challenge is overcoming that stigma. Hopefully, we can help change public opinion in that regard.”
Thomas said Handle19 expects a large portion of its customer base to be sports fans looking to place $5-to-$10 bets while watching a game.
Sports betting bars face added regulations
Handle19’s proposed location in the Capitol Hill neighborhood is on a block with a number of other bars.
Thomas points out that patrons of these bars can currently bet on sports from their phones using the DC Lottery sports betting app, GambetDC.
These bars have no responsibility to monitor the wagering of their patrons, but Handle19 will.
Class B licensees must ensure that people are not engaging in betting while intoxicated. Handle19 also must implement responsible gaming programs.
“A point I made on multiple occasions that seems to fall on deaf ears is our type of establishment I think is preferable to a sports bar that doesn’t have gaming,” Thomas said.
“If you go to a bar next to us, you can bet your life savings on the DC Lottery app and get drunk while doing it. … If someone is stumbling up to a gambling kiosk, we will have someone monitoring that kiosk to prevent them from placing a wager. Other bars don’t have that regulatory requirement we have.”
What’s next for liquor license quest?
ABRA scheduled an initial rollcall hearing for Nov. 23. The regulatory body could set a hearing date then, likely for early 2021.
Mediation attempts will start soon after.
“My gut tells me we end up with a liquor license,” Thomas said. “The space we’re moving into has been a bar and had a liquor license for almost 50 years, so there is not much of a substantive change in what is going on there other than the fact we’ll be adding some gambling kiosks.
“I’m optimistic if we have to take this to the end, we will be successful.”
Handle19 applies for Virginia sports betting license
The Virginia Lottery announced this week that it received 25 applicants for online sports betting permits.
Thomas confirmed that Handle19 Virginia was one of those applicants.
Thomas said Handle19 will use its local roots to compete against the larger sports betting companies.
“We’re looking to offer a Virginia sports wagering platform by Virginians and for Virginians,” he said. “I think we have a really strong Virginia application, and we’re really excited about the potential opportunity there to build a Virginia-centric product for the residents of Virginia.”
The headquarters for Handle19 Virginia is based in Norfolk. Thomas also lauded the company’s commitment to diversity.
“I’m not sure of the whole list of 25 applicants, but I would bet that we are the only 100% minority-owned company that is applying for a sports wagering license in the Commonwealth of Virginia,” Thomas said.
Officials have 90 days to render a decision on each applicant. Previously, they said they expect the first VA sports betting apps to be operational and accepting bets in early 2021, possibly January.