The stunning vote Tuesday to expel longtime Washingon D.C. City Councilmember Jack Evans reinvigorated hopes for some in the gambling industry that the city government might revisit the much-maligned sports betting contract Evans championed. However, sources close to the situation said the removal of the leading advocate for the controversial no-bid, exclusive contract with Greek gaming Intralot will have little impact on District sports betting.
”If people are thinking that the vote to remove him by the Council is somehow going to simultaneously be a vote to revisit the Intralot contract, I think that’s very wrong,” said Jeff Ifrah, Founding Member of D.C.-based Ifrah law, in an interview with Gambling.com. “That’s nuts. That’s just not going to happen.”
The other 12 members of the Council voted to recommend Evans explosion, meaning he will inevitably be formally removed from office in the coming weeks if he doesn’t resign first. This is just the latest development of an ongoing investigation into multiple corruption allegations against Evans, which includes the District’s fledgling sports betting operation.
- Evans Expelled: The Council’s unanimous vote effectively ends the political career of the body’s longest-serving member and marks the first time since D.C. home rule began in the 1960s that lawmakers voted to remove one of their fellow elected officials. The Washington Post reports council members felt “betrayed” by Evans after investigations showed he abused his office by funneling hundreds of thousands of dollars in government contracts that enriched himself.
- Contract Continues: Evans previously drew scrutiny over his handling of the no-bid sports betting contract, but the council still decided to advance the measure without further changes. With Evans (presumably) gone, there still doesn’t seem to be enough political willpower (or even possibility) of starting over the bidding process, which in part has already delayed the implementation of sports betting by the better part of a year.
- Key Quote: “Remember, the D.C. Council as a whole had a chance to revisit this independent of the whole Evans deal, and chose not to,” Ifrah said. “And that was after Evans was in trouble.”
DC Sports Betting Background
Evans introduced the District’s sports betting legislation in September 2018 with hopes bets could come by the beginning of 2019. Nearly 15 months after the bill was introduced, D.C. still doesn’t have a firm timeline for when it will take its first bet.
- One of the First: Fearing competition from neighboring Maryland and Virginia, Evans (and the majority of the Council) argued for the quick legalization of sports betting. The idea of legal sports betting itself received little opposition from the 13-person council or the Mayor’s office.
- Controversy: That wasn’t the case for sports betting’s implementation. By early 2019, Evans and several other council members began the push for a sole-source, no-bid contract for Intralot to partner with the D.C. lottery to run sports betting. The unusual move to supersede city law that mandates competitive bids for large government contracts passed 7-6.
- Controversy (Part 2): The no-bid contract grew more suspicious when the Post reported Evans’ business consulting firm had previously hired an Intralot lobbyist.
- Controversy (Part 3): After receiving the contract, Intralot reportedly violated the law when it subcontracted its work to a D.C. business with no actual employees in the city.
All this comes off the heels of the decision to only offer only one city-wide legal online sports betting option, creating a de facto monopoly and angering gambling stakeholders that argued a competitive marketplace would have been better for bettors, stakeholders and the government. Still, there are some bright spots going forward, even if the no-bid, sole-source Intralot contract seems unlikely to change at the moment.
- Other Stakeholders: Evans’ legislation allowed four sports stadiums as well as individual bars and restaurants to take sports bets. Ifrah, who organized a group called Bet DC to help unite interested bars and restaurants to take bets, says the current lottery drama shouldn’t impact his group’s ability to accept wagers.
- Lawsuit Looms: Meanwhile, a D.C. app developer is suing the city, arguing the no-bid contract was illegal. Another court date is set for later this month, but it appears the legal battles could go far longer. In a worst-case scenario, courts could invalidate the contract and force D.C. to start the bidding process from the beginning.
- Future Options: The original bill also allows the city to expand the number of online licenses, or “skins,” should the sole-source option not meet revenue projections. With the D.C. Lottery option rollout timeline still undetermined it’s far too early to project if sports betting fails to meet revenue goals, let alone if the council has the political willpower to further amend the legislation. Still, it gives hope that there may be a more competitive marketplace in years to come, especially with the most prominent sole-source backer out of office.
- Bottom Line: Thanks to the bar and restaurant provision, D.C. sports betting should begin in the first half of next year. Though online betting would be geofenced within the physical confines of these establishments, District bettors should (finally) have access to legal wagering, even as the government-run lottery option continues to flounder.