New, Locally-Owned DC Sportsbook Looks to Change Sports Betting

New, Locally-Owned DC Sportsbook Looks to Change Sports Betting article feature image

Paul Morigi/Getty Images for William Hill US

A new sportsbook is about to change Washington D.C. sports betting – and possibly the conversation about the industry in America.

Entrepreneur Shane August and the team behind Handle 19 are set to launch the country’s first independent retail sportsbook as early as next month. More than just another sports betting option in Washington D.C., August hopes his venue can inspire similar locally owned and community-focused sports betting operations around the country.

“It’s bigger than just entering the sports wagering arena as an independent operator,” August said. “It’s about breaking ground and serving other groups.”

Handle 19 Set for DC Launch

August’s auspicious goals begin with a three-story, 6,000 square-foot entertainment complex a short walk from the U.S. Capitol.

Handle 19, located at 319 E Pennsylvania Ave. SE, will be tailored to a wide range of customers, August said. Bettors can place a bet and leave, stop for a meal or spend the day watching games.

“We want you to forget that you’re in D.C. and feel that you’re on the Vegas strip,” August said.

The sportsbook's plan is to open its doors sometime before Thanksgiving for retail betting. A mobile app, which by D.C. law will only be able to accept bets within the actual sportsbook, is set to launch sometime next year.

Both the retail and digital sportsbooks will enter a market desperate for new options.

The William Hill sportsbook at Capital One Arena is the district’s highest-grossing (and only) retail book, even though it currently offers a couple ticket windows and a handful of kiosks. A renovation is expected to finish sometime next year that will dramatically expand betting options, but it gives an opening for new books such as Handle 19 to build a market foothold.

The Capital One Arena sportsbook’s success is largely due to the city’s mobile betting app’s failures. GamBet DC, run by the city lottery, has struggled to gain customers despite being the only legal mobile book in the nation’s capital. Betting lines are routinely less competitive than the market average, forcing would-be legal bettors to stay with unlicensed bookies or unregulated offshore sites.

“People are using their hard-earned money,” August said. “They’re not going to bet just to bet.”

He said finding reasonable betting lines won’t be a problem at Handle 19. The company has partnered with US Bookmaking, which operates books in Colorado, Michigan and New Mexico, for tech support and risk management.

Competitive lines – and a local focus – will help Handle 19 stand out, August said.

“Some of these books are so corporate they lose focus on the customer. We’re the opposite,” August said. “We’re leading off with the customer first. We want to come from the perspective of a sports bettor. We think we know what they like and what they’re looking for in a product.”

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Handle 19 Looks to Open Opportunities for Others

August acknowledges Handle 19 won’t compete for market share with DraftKings, FanDuel, BetMGM or the nation’s other major leading operators. He hopes its impact can still be felt across the country.

As the first independent retail sportsbook, Handle 19 will break ground for other locally-focused groups hoping to enter the multibillion-dollar U.S. sports betting market. August said he and his team are continuing to push for sound policy in other states that will open the door for independent groups like themselves.

“We’re not necessarily looking to compete with the big guys," August said. "We want to carve out our own niche in a large market."

August has worked with Maryland lawmakers as they passed one of the first sports betting bills which specifically allocates opportunities for minority business owners. If voters approve sports betting in this fall’s ballot, August said he will continue working with state lawmakers on follow-up legislation that allows minority and local groups the ability to launch books like Handle 19.

“We want to be examples to other smaller groups, other minorities, other women that they can do this," August said. "It’s a new industry. It’s a great opportunity."

Tennessee is set to launch the nation’s first digital-only locally owned sportsbook when Nashville-based Action 247 takes its first bet, possibly as early as next month. Tennessee is the only state with an uncapped number of licenses, which allows smaller companies a chance to enter the market.

In most other states, local law has made this more difficult.

Of the roughly two-dozen states with legal sports betting, the vast majority limit licenses and/or require affiliation with a land-based gaming facility. August said this essentially excluded his group from entering West Virginia, which only allows five sportsbooks, all of which partnered with large, national brands.

This same dynamic has played out in most other states, where the major, conglomerate-owned casinos and horse tracks routinely partner with larger, established brands or as is the case for massive companies such as Caesars, Penn National and MGM, simply use their license for their existing sportsbook.

August said Handle 19 can help show lawmakers in other states the importance – and potential – for locally owned books. Though they might never match the revenue of larger brands, August said the employment and business opportunities from local sportsbooks are well worth the investment.

“It’s un-American for only three or four companies to enjoy the fruits of this industry,” August said. “We want to be the example for other groups to look toward and get encouragement that lets them know they can do this too.”

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