Q&A With Zach Leonsis: Inside the Deal That’s Bringing a Sportsbook to Capital One Arena
Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Fans cheer outside Capital One Arena
On Thursday, Monumental Sports & Entertainment — the parent company of the Washington Wizards, Capitals, Mystics and Capital One Arena — announced that it will have a William Hill sportsbook inside the arena doors.
It marks a first for American major pro sports. There are a lot of elements to the deal and it’s quite complicated. For that, we sat down with Zach Leonsis, the senior VP for strategic initiatives for Monumental, to explain more.
ROVELL: Can you believe it’s happening so soon?
ZACH LEONSIS: It’s very exciting opportunity, something that I think that we’ve been banging the drum on for a long time. My dad [Monumental Sports owner Ted Leonsis] has certainly become an evangelist for the regulation of sports betting and also the importance for teams to embrace this. If we don’t, it’s going to happen without us and we’ve discussed for a long time that only good things will happen with regulation. These are revenues that will be taxed. They will be regulated in terms of ensuring integrity, but this is also just a very cool technology and engagement experience that will be in the heart of Washington D.C. and we hope to see it online once licenses are squared away for William Hill.
ROVELL: Washington D.C. legalized sports betting nine months ago but nothing has been done because the D.C. Lottery awarded the deal to a Greek company called Intralot without any sort of bidding process. It’s been highly contested and now there’s a lawsuit over it. William Hill can get a license to run a mobile app within two blocks of the arena, but as of now needs additional approval from Intralot. How confident are you in the future?
ZACH LEONSIS: Where are we doesn’t preclude us from making our announcement today official that we are partnering with William Hill as the official sportsbook at Monumental Sports & Entertainment. It’s a landmark deal in that we will be the very first arena in all of North America to have an actual sportsbook on the premises. And the opportunity to have people in the building on off days is unbelievable. We’d love to see it online sometime in early 2020.
ROVELL: Your dad, in March 2018, told me he was dreaming of turning your arena into one big sportsbook. How close are you to doing that?
ZACH LEONSIS: For most part, our arena has been closed outside of the window of 6 p.m. to 11 p.m. We think we’ll be able to open up our building from 9 a.m. to 1 a.m. or so and make it the No. 1 place to watch an NFL Sunday game. We’ll have people in the lower bowl and a couple thousand people watching on the center display. We just invested and launched a brand new center-hung screen. It’s huge. It’s multi-tiered so we can have specific tiers just dedicated to advanced stats and analytics. We want it to look more like a sophisticated sports experience that feels more like (stock) trading than a cocktail bar.
ROVELL: Just to be clear. I can get into the sportsbook from the street on gamedays without a ticket?
ZACH LEONSIS: Yes, just like you could at the previous restaurant that was there, Green Turtle. You can enter from the outside. So that area will be open essentially everyday. The arena might be open for boxing matches and UFC fights. We think that this will be very popular venue.
ROVELL: How much can you promote your teams within the betting odds? That’s all William Hill?
ZACH LEONSIS: We don’t touch that. We don’t participate in the handle and our revenues don’t float based on the handle. We are not in any way involved in the actual betting operation.