September 25, 2023

D.C. Lottery Limits Retail Wagers After Restaurant Bettor Wins Big


The Washington D.C. Lottery changed its retail sports wagering rules after one bettor took advantage of poorly priced odds at GambetDC kiosks, The Washington Post reported Tuesday

The lottery, which runs GambetDC with help from third-party provider Intralot, implemented kiosk wagering limits over the summer, citing responsible gambling concerns as the cause. The emergency rules were implemented in late June and will last through at least Oct. 29. Bettors can’t wager more than $1,000 at kiosks, and rules allow for players to be limited based on the amount of time they spend wagering, the amount of money wagered, or the volume of wagers placed over a short period of time. 

Oddly, the rules don’t include any specifics for what amount of time or money would raise enough red flags for a customer to be limited.

The Washington Post’s reporting suggests the desire for the emergency rule to limit bettors was sparked by one bettor who frequently wagered — and turned a profit of more than $100,000 — at GambetDC kiosks inside of Abunai, a poke restaurant in the District. The bettor exploited Intralot’s shaky bookmaking skills by sitting down at the kiosk and comparing GambetDC odds to other operators. When a stark enough discrepancy was found between them, the bettor would place their wagers. 

“The emergency rule-making action was in part motivated by the recent observation of a GambetDC player that appeared to be frequently placing an unusually high number of wagers and wager amounts at retail,” the lottery admitted to the publication.

Problem gambling reaction

Understandably, bettors voiced their frustrations online upon learning that the lottery is limiting not only mobile bettors, but also in-person wagerers. The story also highlights the concern many bettors share of being limited unreasonably just because they’re winning. 

The citation of responsible gambling concerns is particularly hard to swallow, given that the District recently removed all problem gambling funding generated by sports betting revenues from its annual budget. 

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“This is the epitome of hypocrisy,” responsible gambling consultant Brianne Doura-Schawohl posted on X, formerly known as Twitter. “I am embarrassed for DC. Frustrated for the players and residents. Limiting a player who is winning due to ‘concerns’ while simultaneously never expending $.01 into education, prevention or treatment for PG. Then cutting all PG funding. Disgusting.”

Responsible gambling stakeholders like Doura-Schawohl were highly critical of D.C. leaders for removing annual funding from the budget, but the District moved forward with the mayor’s budget without objection from council members. The Department of Behavioral Health suggested it didn’t need the annual funding to operate successfully. 

“The Department of Behavioral Health can support treatment for gambling disorders through our existing mental health services and resources,” DBH representatives said. “DBH has certified about 50 community-based providers located across D.C. to deliver mental health services. Several types of therapy used to treat gambling disorders — including cognitive behavioral therapy, group therapy, and family therapy — are available and can be tailored to fit individual needs.”

Financial ramifications

The Washington Post article also highlights a few critical financial notes. Thanks to the anonymous bettor, Abunai reported nearly $200,000 in commissions over a roughly two-year period from the kiosks. Restaurants and bars receive a 5% commission on wagers placed at their location.

Abunai made more sports betting revenue than any other business taking advantage of GambetDC’s offerings in the District, but limiting bettors means limiting the potential financial returns for small businesses. A different small business owner told The Washington Post they believe the extra labor of managing the kiosk has actually cost their business money. 

One of the reasons the lottery has previously cited for not wanting to move away from GambetDC to a competitive licensing process – Intralot was awarded a sole-source contract to run D.C. sports betting and national operators are given minimal access in the District – was the financial benefit to small businesses from the retail kiosks. The Post’s report suggests those financial benefits are overestimated and future wagering limitations could hurt those projections even more. 

The end of GambetDC?

GambetDC has faced intense criticism from customers and D.C. council members for its repeated shortcomings, including its iOS app malfunctioning on Super Bowl Sunday in 2022. 

The sports betting product’s odds are also subpar compared to other platforms nationwide. The lottery often says those concerns are being addressed, but a recent check of the mobile sportsbook suggests that’s untrue. 

For example, FanDuel and Caesars Sportsbook list the University of Virginia’s football team as a 9.5-point underdog to North Carolina State on Friday night. GambetDC offers the same 9.5-point spread, but the odds for the bet are -125 on each side, whereas FanDuel and Caesars each list -110 odds for each wager. GambetDC’s vigorish has long been decried by those in the industry, and several other college football games this week have similarly egregious odds. 

Some D.C. council members have asked for the District to move away from its contract with Intralot, a five-year deal that is set to expire in July of 2024. Former council member Elissa Silverman proposed a bill in late 2022 to allow national operators to enter the mobile market — BetMGM, Caesars Sportsbook, and FanDuel already have retail sportsbooks in the District — but it never gained traction. 

“Gambet is a disaster,” Silverman told Sports Handle on Tuesday. “I am not a fan of sports gambling, but if we are going to do it, it should generate revenue for important things like schools, public safety, and housing. The Council needs to scrap Gambet and move to a market-based system.”

D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson told The Post in Tuesday’s story that improving GambetDC might be “impossible.” Still, Mendelson has stopped short of saying that D.C. will move away from Intralot and GambetDC next year.

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