A woman fills out her D.C. Lottery Powerball slip. The D.C. Lottery will approve licenses for bars and restaurants seeking to add a sports betting operation.
A woman fills out her D.C. Lottery Powerball slip. The D.C. Lottery will approve licenses for bars and restaurants seeking to add a sports betting operation. Credit: Darrow Montgomery/File

The decision feels like a no-brainer for Todd Luongo. The owner of Dirty Water Sports Bar on H Street NE applied to the Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration to update its liquor license so that he can add sports betting as one of the bar’s amenities.

It’s one of the first steps that local bars are taking to in advance of sports gambling’s arrival in D.C.

“That’s certainly the hope to bring in more business,” Luongo says. “It can serve to bring in more people for the quote-unquote less interesting games. We already get big crowds for the key matches and playoff games … This might promote more interest in the tier two matches and games and get people to watch those. Maybe get them interested in some teams and sports they otherwise wouldn’t have.”

Five other establishments have taken similar steps to add sports betting to their operations, according to the Post: Duffy’s Irish Pub on H Street NE, Wet Dog Tavern and the yet-to-be-opened Lyve located near the U Street NW corridor, the Brig in Navy Yard, and Lou’s City Bar in Columbia Heights. 

Sports wagering in the city was signed into law in January, and D.C. Lottery will be in charge of approving licenses for businesses. The new law permits gambling at sports arenas, bars and restaurants, convenience stores, and hotels.

The Class A operator license allows physical and mobile sports wagering at four designated sports stadiums and arenas in the District: Capital One Arena, Audi Field, Nationals Park, and the Entertainment and Sports Arena in Congress Heights.

Class B operator licenses will be for private brick-and-mortar businesses that are not operating solely for the purpose of sports wagering. Businesses cannot be within a two-block radius of the arenas, and D.C. Lottery can “deny a sports wagering application if it is not in the best economic interest of the District,” according to the Office of Lottery and Gaming’s website.

Applications for both won’t be available until next month, meaning that legal sports gambling won’t be finalized in time for the NFL season as originally planned.

“We’re working on finalizing regulations for Class A and B,” says Nicole Jordan, the director of marketing and communications for D.C. Lottery. “We have a 30-day comment period. We’ve received over 100 comments of things for us to consider in terms of changing some of the rules. Most of the comments are more for clarity purposes.”

D.C. Lottery will also offer a mobile sports betting app and sports wagering products via kiosks and terminals that can be installed in local businesses that are projected to be launched in January.

Luongo expects to apply for the latter. In the ABRA application, he wrote that Dirty Water plans to add three sports wagering machines to its third floor bar. In that arrangement, D.C. Lottery will own the equipment, while the operator will get commission off sales, similar to how the lottery is run in the city now, explains Jordan. The commission rate has not been set.

“The assumption is that the bar would get a piece of the profits,” says Luongo. “Otherwise, what’s the point of a bar participating? But the big question is, what percentage? I haven’t seen an answer to that as of yet.”

Casey Callister, the owner of Duffy’s, is taking a look at all his options. He plans to apply for a Class B license and wants to add “four kiosks and mobile geo-fenced applications inside the premises,” according to his ABRA application. Intralot, which the D.C. Council approved last month on a no-bid contract, will run the city-wide app. Private businesses can develop and run mobile apps that only work inside their physical location.

“My whole business is that we can offer as much variety for our customers,” Callister says. “Whatever the way they like to bet on sports, we want that it’s available for them. I think people will probably stay longer and probably visit more if they can use those services.”

The Brig’s business tends to slow down during the winter season. Mark Brody, the co-owner of the half-outdoor beer garden, hopes that sports gambling will help close the gap in sales during the slower months. His ABRA application indicates he wants to add one teller and two self-service kiosks in addition to a geo-fenced mobile application.

He too plans on applying for a Class B license, and is currently in talks to partner with a third party sports betting company.

By hiring a teller, Brody hopes that he will have somebody on staff that understands how the kiosks work and can answer questions from customers. Beyond that, he doesn’t expect too much of a change in terms of the day-to-day operation. He does not yet know who will pay for the kiosks.

“Right now we have maybe 10 TVs. We also have projection screen on the side of building. So we’ll just add more TVs,” he says. “We try to change as we find what the people want. We allow dogs, people love coming here with their dogs. We see kids. Whatever the neighborhood wants. We’re kinda a neighborhood bar.”

The staff at Dirty Water is excited about the prospect of adding sports gambling, Luongo says. He adds that impact on the employees will be minimal.

“Depending what type of kiosks we’re allowed, I anticipate them to be majority self service,” he says. “We already have a self-service jukebox, Skee-Ball, photo booth. It’ll just be a couple more kiosks. There will obviously be some training involved, but nothing to change the profile of the bar or operations in any large way. It’s not like we’re building a casino with a cage.”