Like many city dwellers, Steve Cimino does not own a car. So in early 2021, when Virginia launched online sports betting, the northeast Washington writer came up with a plan. On Saturday, he could plot a 15-mile bike ride that would take him across the river to Arlington. Once across the state line, he would stop the bike – often stopping to sit on the same ledge right next to a bike path, just in front of the Air Headquarters building Force Association – placed his bets on his phone, then went home.
“I can exercise and I can place bets,” Cimino told his wife. “Everybody wins.”
Cimino is not alone in his journeys across the river. Although mobile sports betting is legal in the district, many DC gamers find themselves drawn to Virginia and its much more robust options, driven across the Potomac River mostly out of frustration with DC’s operation. They park their cars on the side of Virginia roads, they plan visits with suburban friends, they study college football lines before a trip to the airport – all for what they consider a gaming experience. easier and more enjoyable.
“A Sunday is [second] nature now to cross the line and get back in time for the 1 p.m. games,” said Mike Callow, a radio producer who works in northwest Washington. Callow often stops in empty parking lots just outside above the Virginia state line to place bets.
After the Supreme Court ruled in 2018 that states can establish their own sports betting laws, DC became the first Washington-area jurisdiction to act, launching its online operation in May 2020, eight months before Virginia. . But the DC Council chose to award a $215 million no-tender contract to gaming company Intralot. The resulting platform, GambetDC, is operated by DC Lottery.
In the nascent world of mobile sports betting, such a monopoly is rare. Most states that allow mobile sports betting have approved several big-name competitors such as DraftKings, Caesars, and FanDuel, all of which are offered in Virginia. (The apps require geolocation checks to verify that users are in an authorized jurisdiction.) With Maryland set to launch its own mobile operation in the coming weeks – and with 10 operators already applying to offer mobile betting in The Maryland Approach in town will soon be surrounded by a stable of competitors, offering better promotions and more popular apps.
Cimino recalls reading about DC’s upcoming launch and feeling deep skepticism. When the time came and he launched the Gambet app, he felt vindicated in his mistrust.
“It just seemed like all the fears were coming to fruition,” Cimino said. “It’s a stupid, unfinished, incomplete app that we were all supposed to love just because we love gambling.”
Cimino’s reaction was common, and soon a chorus of criticism clouded the running of the city. Users expressed their dissatisfaction with both aesthetic and integral details. They claimed the user interface was poor, the geo-restrictions were confusing – mobile gambling is not allowed in some parts of the district – and the odds themselves were worse than other outlets. sale.
“The app was rubbish – it’s still rubbish – what about the actual lines? Oh my god I looked at it and said ‘no I’m not betting on that thing’ “, said Callow.
GambetDC was expected to bring more than $20 million a year to the city, but isn’t close yet, with the pandemic also impacting its rollout. In fact, documents submitted to city council in March 2022 showed the operation actually cost the city $4 million in the first year, mostly due to marketing expenses. Critics pointed to this red number as proof that the company was doomed.
“You shouldn’t be able to lose money running a gambling operation,” laughed Scott Kraff, a Northeast attorney. “That shouldn’t be possible.”
A month before this report, the app seemed to have reached its nadir when the iOS app crashed just before the Super Bowl and remained inaccessible to some users throughout the game. GambetDC said in a tweet to the time that the app encountered a technical problem and offered users a $10 in-game bet for the inconvenience.
Michael Hacker, a longtime Northwest Washington resident and football fan, described the Super Bowl incident as his last straw. Since then, he has placed bets exclusively in Virginia, where popular national companies offer their services. Most of the time, he will make his bets from the tarmac at Reagan National Airport before traveling.
“The [Gambet] revenue was well below the projections the city told people they were expecting and, well, the proof is in the product,” Hacker said. ” It’s a [bad] application and it is a [bad] live. If you can very easily cross the river and have a better experience, people will.”
The district’s mobile operation fared better in fiscal year 2022; the total money wagered increased by 38% compared to the previous year and the number of bets increased by 59%. GambetDC generated an estimated $2.6 million in revenue to the district government’s general fund in 2022, according to Melissa Davis, chief communications officer for the city’s lottery and gaming office.
Even with improved numbers, the bureau is aware of past public criticism, Davis said. In late October, GambetDC launched an upgraded version of its app, “more in line with what players currently experience when betting with competing products in surrounding jurisdictions,” Davis wrote in an email. “We hope this new app will address the concerns of local sports bettors, demonstrate GambetDC’s strength as a bookmaker and pave the way for future success.”
But the app’s reputation is beyond repair in some circles.
“If you talk to anyone who’s used it, they usually recommend you don’t use it,” said Bennett Conlin, who covers the sports betting industry for SportsHandle. “There are a lot of reasons not to use GambetDC and there are a lot of people who have openly said they don’t like the app. I know they made some changes to [it]but it’s hard to get over people’s discontent and move past some of the mishaps they’ve had.”
The initial contract between Intralot and the city runs until 2024. Last month, DC Council member Elissa Silverman (I-At Large) introduced legislation that would terminate the contract upon conclusion and end the monopoly of ‘Intralot, opening the city to national operators.
“We need to move on from this embarrassing episode,” Silverman said in a statement. “Residents deserve an online application that works, taxpayers deserve a program that makes money for the district, and we all deserve a system where we don’t hand over huge contracts to a favorite company and its contractors. without even looking at the competition.”
Until these potential competitors have a chance to enter the DC market, players like Cimino see their trips to Northern Virginia as a good way to run out of time. He’s done the river bike ride most Saturdays since Virginia carriers went online, traveling deep enough in the state for apps to recognize he’s no longer in the district. He places his bets as the weekend cyclists whiz by, then he heads back to Washington.
“The fact that Gambet failed to win against me or my fellow players…is not a good sign,” Cimino said. “At this point, I don’t think Gambet will ever strike.”