D.C. venture is paying off

Editor’s note: Gaming Today welcomes Vikas Chokshi as our new East Coast Scene columnist. Here is his debut column:

On July 31, history was made when Capital One Arena, home to the NHL’s Washington Capitals, NBA’s Wizards and WNBA’s Mystics, became the first professional sports venue in the U.S. to have a physical sportsbook within the facility.

The book is also the first of its kind in the District of Columbia.

The plan was put into motion last October when Monumental Sports & Entertainment founder Ted Leonsis, who is also the owner of the Capitals, Wizards and Mystics, announced a partnership with bookmaker William Hill and their plans for a sportsbook inside the Arena. William Hill will also become the exclusive sports betting partner of the aforementioned teams.

Joe Asher, the CEO of William Hill U.S., explained why the partnership with Monumental Sports and Entertainment made sense.

“It was the perfect opportunity to have the first sportsbook inside an arena in the United States”, Asher said. “And, of course Ted (Leonis) has been a real leader on the issue of sports betting in the sports and entertainment industry. So we are really happy that it all came together.”

The current sportsbook is temporarily located at the arena’s box office, featuring seven ticket windows and 14 kiosks. A permanent book will be located in the arena in the space previously occupied by restaurant/bar The Green Turtle. It is scheduled to open in early 2021 and is estimated to have 30,000 square feet of space.

Jim Van Stone, president of Business Operations and Chief Commercial Officer for Monumental Sports & Entertainment, said the early results look promising for the partnership.

“The marketplace responded,” he said. “We wrote 70,000 tickets in August. And that was with no football. We expect our numbers for September to be much bigger. We’re always busy.”

Both sides are excited about the early success and are appreciative of each other.

“I think we’ve been amazed,” Van Stone said. “It has worked out really well. Joe (Asher) and his people are tremendous to work with and extremely knowledgeable.”

Asher agreed.

“We feel really great about the early returns,” he said.

Of course, a lot has happened since last October, most notably the pandemic that threatened to derail what both sides had envisioned. Both Van Stone and Asher touched on the challenge of opening during a pandemic.

“Organizationally, we’ve always been entrepreneurial,” Van Stone said. “We’re not afraid to try something new. We do 240 events a year (at Capital One Arena). But obviously with the pandemic, we were shut down. But we were able to convert our box office in the lobby into a temporary sportsbook. In a matter of 30 days, we were able to get it up and running.”

Asher credited both sides for coming up with a solution in such a short time frame.

“We were targeting an opening this summer, which was impacted by the pandemic, but Ted and his team were just terrific,” he said. “They understood that the world had changed, so we went back and re-visited the agreement and came up with something that was going to work in a new environment.

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“That is when we came up with the idea to convert the box office, since it was not being utilized, so we turned that whole area into a pop-up sportsbook. That was never contemplated pre-Covid.”

Asher also discussed how everything changed in May of 2018, when the Supreme Court repealed the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992, the federal statute that had restricted regulated sports betting to primarily Nevada. The ruling enabled professional leagues and franchises to enter into commercial partnerships with bookmaking companies.

“It’s great to see that the leagues and teams are now working with the gaming industry,” Asher said. “It’s something that didn’t exist a few years ago, so it is great to have reached that point because we have common fans.

“Not everyone who watches sports bets on it, but everyone who bets on it, watches. So, there are clearly more opportunities to work together, and the sportsbook at Capital One Arena is a great example of it.”

So far, the District of Columbia and Illinois are the only jurisdictions that have passed sports betting legislation allowing bookmakers to operate at sports venues.

Asher was asked if William Hill had any other partnerships in the works similar to the one they have with Monumental.

“We’re always looking at opportunities,” he said. “We try to understand the nature of the opportunity, what the commercial opportunity is and if the economics are going to make sense.

“More than anything, we want to make sure we have the right partner involved so that we are both successful. And that is what really drove this deal with Monumental on our end. We have a tremendous partner here that really looks at things the right way.”

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