With pendant lighting strategically located over leather sofas, cushioned chairs, side tables, and abstract-patterned rugs, this space in the heart of downtown Washington, D.C., could easily be confused with a high-end furniture showroom.
Walls lined with small and large high-def televisions, floor space occupied by human tellers and kiosks that exchange betting slips for cash, and a pair of glass doors that lead directly into the Capital One Arena concourse where the NBA’s Wizards and NHL’s Capitals play are the tip-off that the Caesars Sportsbook by William Hill is not your ordinary sports book.
It’s also one glimpse at what the sports betting future in Massachusetts could look like whenever Beacon Hill gets around to legalization.
A recent journey up the mid-Atlantic seaboard where sports betting operations are already running provided a wealth of options for Massachusetts to consider. The main takeaway is that while placing a winning sports bet remains both an art and a science mastered by few, the act of placing a sports bet could not be much simpler.
Thanks to technology that can pinpoint your location within the boundaries of a state with legal sports betting, you can just as easily place a bet on your smartphone or laptop as you can by stepping into a brick-and-mortar sports book. Whether it was from a phone at a Washington, D.C., ramen shop, on a train moving through Pennsylvania, on the George Washington Bridge, or dealing in-person with tellers in a D.C. sports arena or the swamps of New Jersey, this reporter never lacked for options.
The starting point
Given its innovative setup, Washington was the best place to start. Our nation’s capital legalized sports betting in May of 2019; the D.C. Lottery oversees the operation and has its own online app that covers the district, except in four niches for the city’s pro sports teams.
The teams have done, or expect to do, deals with gaming companies to conduct betting on sports with their app or at a sports book within a two-block perimeter of their venues. Capital One Arena (NBA’s Wizards, NHL’s Capitals) has a deal with Caesars-William Hill for both online betting and an actual sports book.
As of last month, bets can be placed in and outside Nationals Park (MLB’s Nationals) with the BetMGM app, with a BetMGM sports book located just outside the ballpark expected to open later this year.
Audi Field (MLS’s D.C. United) is completing a deal with FanDuel for both a sports book and mobile app. St. Elizabeths East Entertainment and Sports Arena (WNBA’s Mystics, G League’s Capital City Go-Go) has yet to ink any licenses.
Capital One Arena is next to the National Portrait Gallery and Chinatown. Like TD Garden, it hosts two pro teams and concerts on non-game days in non-pandemic years and is atop a train stop.
The big difference, for now, is that within Capital One’s walls sits the first sports book inside a US sports arena or stadium.
The space encompasses nearly 20,000 square feet over two floors, with a spiral staircase into the middle. There’s a bar with a standard sports bar feel to it on the first floor. Upstairs there’s more seating space, conference rooms, a restaurant with food designed by a Michelin-rated chef, plus another bar and more betting kiosks, with the doors to the arena concourse.
The Caesars-William Hill sports book runs the betting operation, which includes an app that can be used within a couple of blocks of the building.
The landlord is the arena’s owner, Monumental Sports & Entertainment, which also owns the Wizards, Capitals, Mystics, Go-Go, e-sports properties, and broadcasting outlets. Monumental drove the pioneering deal with Caesars-William Hill, but Monumental never touches the betting money. It derives its revenue from rent, food and beverage, media and sponsorship deals, and ticket sales.
With the sports book open 365 days a year, Monumental is trying to make it a destination on “dark” days for the arena.
“NFL Sundays are going to be phenomenal, hopefully, if we’ll be able to flex games into our arena and maybe broadcast games inside on the jumbo boards so people can sit and watch,” said Jim Van Stone, Monumental’s president of business operations and chief commerce officer, who also envisions drawing patrons to enjoy brunch from arena seats for Premier League soccer games.
“This is a flagship operation. We’ve had teams from the NBA and NHL come and visit, and their reaction is, first, that they see this is a game-changing experience. Then they want to see if they can get it legalized in their own home markets.”
State by state on the train
Just four stops from Capital One’s subway stop is the Navy Yard-Ballpark stop. It’s hard to miss; it’s the one where nearly every square inch of every pillar and wall in the station is emblazoned with BetMGM’s black-and-gold ads.
A BetMGM sports book built within a parking garage adjacent to the Nationals stadium is “coming soon,” say company officials. MLB rules do not currently allow sports books within stadium property, but if you seat yourself in a ramen joint, or just lean against a wall near the ballpark, you can bet with your phone.
Registration for the BetMGM app, the first tethered to an MLB team, requires, like all other sports-betting apps, divulging a lot of personal data: birth date, address, proof of age, and last four digits of your Social Security number. Verification takes half a minute, tops. The last step is transferring funds from your credit card, bank, PayPal, or similar account into the app’s account, an even more frictionless act.
Then, you can explore the app’s extensive list of straight bets, parlays, prop bets, or futures bets, decide what you’re going to bet and how much and then wait it out wherever you’d like.
A New York-bound train out of Washington passes through five states with legal sports betting.
First is Maryland, which legalized it in May after voters approved a 2020 referendum. It’s not up and running yet, but when it is as soon as this fall, it’s going to be a big deal. Sixty online licenses will be granted, with the Orioles, Ravens, and Washington Football Team each getting licenses at their stadiums, plus six casinos, eight horse racing tracks, and a couple of bingo halls.
Delaware is next. Notable for being the first state to legalize sports betting after a 2018 Supreme Court ruling gave states not named Nevada the ability to have sports gambling, Delaware so far allows only single-game bets at its three casinos and parlay bets at its lottery outlets. Curiously, online betting isn’t on the table for the foreseeable future.
It doesn’t take long to pass through Delaware and enter Pennsylvania, an up-and-comer in legal sports betting. The bulk of its $8.1 billion in total money wagered has come in the one year since it allowed mobile sports betting.
Before hopping aboard the train, I had picked Fox Bet, one of the half-dozen online sports books — often called a “skin” in industry parlance — approved for use in Pennsylvania. When I attempted to place my bets before crossing the Pennsylvania border, a message of apology flashed. The app did not object to me loading $50 onto it via a PayPal transfer before I reached the border.
About 30 seconds after my Google Maps app showed me I was in Pennsylvania rail space, I successfully placed three bets.
Although I could have, I didn’t bet from the train when it entered New Jersey. Instead, with a Yankees-Red Sox series beginning, I chose FanDuel Sportsbook at Meadowlands Racing in East Rutherford as the place to be for the game.
New Jersey hot spot
Less than a 10-mile drive from the Lincoln Tunnel entrance in Manhattan, it’s the closest New Jersey sports book to New York City. Including the FanDuel app it’s tethered to, Meadowlands dominates the state’s retail sports-betting landscape, accounting for nearly 60 percent of the revenue.
FanDuel estimates that one of four visitors to East Rutherford lives in New York, so I thought the game would draw a sizable and rowdy crowd of Red Sox-hating fans in their Derek Jeter pinstripes, the same kind of crowd you’d see in the streets and stands at Yankee Stadium.
My assumption was way off-base. All night, there was an average of 30-40 people in the sports book, and while the Yankees-Red Sox game drew prime real estate on an array of 55 TV screens, attention was scattered and rooting strictly bet-related — Rays-Indians, Padres-Marlins, Braves-Phillies, didn’t matter.
With its black walls and towering 45-foot black ceilings, 34 betting windows, 55 self-service kiosks, a VIP area for those who wish to make $500 minimum bets with a private teller, and a sizable squad of sullen security and other staff keeping an eye over everyone, the place has the feel of a Dr. Evil lair.
The relatively sedate crowd and low-key atmosphere were a reminder of why teams like the Red Sox, Bruins, Celtics, Patriots, and Revolution want any Massachusetts sports betting legislation to afford them the opportunity to build a sports book in or near their stadium/arena. Proximity to the action, especially for casual bettors who may not have a ticket but would still try to get near the games, seems as if it will draw a crowd that would drive a lot of business to a retail sports book.
Casinos and racetracks would prefer that not to happen.
Mobile betting has been central to New Jersey’s rise to becoming the leading sports-betting market in the country. More than 90 percent of every dollar wagered in New Jersey is bet over a phone (more than 20 skins are available), spurring New Jersey’s leap over Nevada.
Since New Jersey launched sports betting three years ago and through the end of June, more than $17.3 billion has been wagered, more than a quarter of the $64.7 billion wagered nationwide since the Supreme Court ruling.
New Jersey’s success is largely responsible for the quickening momentum in New York to complete an online sports-betting operation as soon as possible. Combined with Pennsylvania’s online growth, the New York online betting market should begin to deflate New Jersey’s numbers, but until then, New Yorkers can and do drive or take a train to New Jersey to wager.
Another option is to walk into New Jersey via the George Washington Bridge, which is pretty easy after taking the A train to 175th Street on the west side of Manhattan.
There is no New York/New Jersey border marked on the pedestrian path that stretches 212 feet above the Hudson River. My FanDuel and Google Maps apps initially disagreed when I was in New Jersey, but they eventually worked it out and I received permission to bet about 5 yards from the midpoint, where the massive suspension cables dip to their lowest point
The wisdom of betting on sports from any bridge is debatable.
Except in Massachusetts, where that debate can’t be had at all.
Michael Silverman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.