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Sports betting in the District, already troubled by long delays and lost revenues, has hit a new and costly snag.
Two weeks ago, the Office of Lottery and Gaming told City Paper that it would launch its citywide mobile sports betting app and website “by the end of the month.” But as the novel coronavirus pandemic continues to disrupt everyday life, D.C Lottery’s plan is now indefinitely delayed.
“The Lottery’s sports wagering mobile and web platforms are tested and ready to go live,” a D.C. Lottery spokesperson says. “These platforms would be launched tomorrow if there were live sports available for consumers to [place] wagers.”
The city had planned to launch its sports betting app and website to coincide with a typically busy time on the sports calendar when the NCAA’s March Madness basketball tournaments precede the start of the MLB season and the playoffs for the NBA and NHL. The NCAA canceled all of its winter and spring championships, and all major sports leagues have suspended play.
“At this time, almost all professional sports leagues around the world have suspended indefinitely play due to growing concerns around the COVID-19 virus and, as a consequence, there are little-to-no games or bets to offer,” the spokesperson says. “This goes for the Lottery’s offering, as well as any other sports books operating in the U.S. and globally.”
Postponing the sports betting operation means even more lost revenue for D.C. The D.C. Council passed the sports betting bill in December 2018 and it soon became law in the city. The quick approach pushed then by some council members and Chief Financial Officer Jeffrey DeWitt was to expedite the process to make more money for the District and get ahead of Maryland and Virginia—neither of which has yet started sports betting.
DeWitt publicly warned recently that city leaders may need to cut as much as $500 million from the fiscal budget this year, which ends Sept. 30.
The D.C. CFO’s office says that the delay is not prompted by financial troubles of Intralot, D.C. Lottery’s contractor. D.C. Lottery adds it is still developing its iLottery traditional lottery-style games sold online, which it says “will enable the Lottery to grow revenues that go to the District’s General Fund.”
“We are revising our sports wagering launch strategy based on the current state of world events, but will be posting information about the platform in the coming days, including introducing the brand and its functionalities,” the D.C. Lottery spokesperson says. “The Lottery and Intralot are prepared to launch the platform when it is safe for the sports world to return.”