Image courtesy of ESPN
By Noelia Veras
Last Wednesday, May 26, it was announced that William Hill sportsbook had officially opened a new location in Washington D.C. The new location is near the Capital One Arena, where the Washington Wizards and Washington Capitals play their home games. Monumental Sports and Entertainment (MSE) now owns the first sports arena in the United States to house a sports betting venue.
Ted Leonsis, CEO of MSE and owner of the Capitals, the Wizards, and the Capital One Arena, cut the ribbon on the William Hill Sportsbook on Wednesday when making the announcement. Leonsis has big ambitions to popularize legal sports betting and is openly proud of being the first in the country to open a sportsbook at such a large arena.
“You’ll see lots of other arenas, lots of other leagues pushing on the gas to do this,” Leonsis said. “Because of that, we know we’re an exemplar and everyone’s going to be watching how well we execute.”
On Saturday, when the Wizards played the Philadelphia 76ers in Game 3 of their first round playoff series, the first opportunity for fans to go from the arena to a sportsbook took place.
“Fans come to the arena and they now have the ability to have a rooting interest, if you will, in the outcome of the game,” Leonsis said. “I just view this as a natural extension of what was happening but to do it in a more modern — in the sunlight, in a transparent — way.”
Prior to the game starting, NBA commissioner Adam Silver and owner of the 76ers Josh Harris toured the two floor William Hill sportsbook at the Capital One Arena.
“I applaud what Ted is doing here in Washington,” Silver said in an interview with NBC Sports. “At the same time, I think it’s very important that there be a regulatory framework both from the state and federal level, but then also from the league as well, to look out for problematic gambling, to make sure that we strike the right balance in the amount of betting promotion that happens around our games.”
At halftime, ticket holders left to the sportsbook to place their bets. The arena was bustling before, during, and after the game, some fans even staying to watch the Memphis Grizzlies play Utah Jazz.
“The place was busy and had an energy,” said William Hill Vice President of Strategy and Business Dan Shapiro. “That was the great thing to see was the energy in the venue.”
According to ESPN, the 76ers-Wizard game accounted for 40% of the money wagered on the NBA at the new Washington, D.C. sportsbook location.
For Leonsis, this is an opportunity to capitalize on the gradual movement towards acceptance in the United States for sports betting.
“We want to be innovators and we wanted to lead the way in taking the stigma out of gambling,” he said.
This movement by Leonsis to open up legal sports betting is monumental for American sports and the culture of sports betting in this country. Regardless of the controversy surrounding sports betting and gambling, this decision is surely going to affect sports and spectatorship for generations to come.