Ted Leonsis ready to take next big step in gambling industry

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There was this bar and restaurant called The Green Turtle that was affixed to Capital One Arena in downtown Washington, D.C. It was a popular watering hole and a place to get a burger or some wings before a Capitals or Wizards game.

Business was good, but not good enough to stay open.

Now that Washington D.C. has approved sports betting and is moving toward getting into the gambling business, Ted Leonsis figured it’s more profitable to sell parlays than poppers.

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Leonsis owns the Caps and the Wiz. He also owns the arena. He has also been at the forefront of supporting legalized sports betting. And now that the U.S. Supreme Court agreed with him a year and a half ago, Leonsis is ready to take the next big step in the industry.

He’s going to have a sports book inside his arena and he’s going to have William Hill run it for him. Leonsis won’t profit from the gambling, but he’ll make money renting out the space to Joe Asher’s company.

They announced the deal last Thursday. And once the D.C. Lottery Commission gets its act together and puts to rest all the charges of patronage and nepotism behind it, maybe you’ll be able to go to F Street and bet against the Redskins like the rest of America does.

Mind you, this may be a novel concept here in the colonies. But across the pond, the British have been doing this forever. Attend a sporting event in the U.K. and the betting windows are adjacent to the bar. You can get a pint of Guinness and put down a few pounds on Arsenal all in one convenient location.

Of course, people in the U.S. are already betting in ballparks, football stadiums and arenas in states where mobile wagering is permitted. Those who have mobile apps are ahead of the curve.  

I remember when the NHL was contemplating putting a franchise here in Las Vegas and commissioner Gary Bettman said he didn’t like the idea of having a sports book in the arena. Someone forgot to tell him people in Vegas use their phones to bet and since T-Mobile Arena doesn’t ban the use of phones at hockey games, people have been loading up on the Golden Knights going on three years now. 

And if someone didn’t have a phone account, the sports books at New York-New York and Park MGM were a short walk away to accommodate their betting needs. That didn’t seem to bother Bettman.

Oh, and maybe you didn’t realize William Hill has a sponsorship with the Golden Knights. Ditto with the New Jersey Devils at Prudential Center in Newark. And news flash — they have mobile phone betting in Jersey too. It wouldn’t shock me if in the near future the Knights and William Hill announce the opening of a sports book at the T and the Devils making a similar announcement at the Pru.

Interestingly, I didn’t hear any objections from Bettman and the NHL about Leonsis having a sportsbook in his arena. Nothing from NBA commish Adam Silver either. 

What it does will likely set off a domino effect here in this country. You’re going to see books in arenas and stadiums wherever there’s legalized sports betting. In New York there’s legislation being bandied about that would O.K. having a sports book at Yankee Stadium and CitiField. And if that happens, it’s hard to imagine Madison Square Garden, Barclays Center and the new Islanders arena at Belmont Park not having their own books.

Recently, Parx announced a marketing deal with the Philadelphia 76ers. Why not take the next logical step and put a Parx sportsbook at Wells Fargo Center? Same in Pittsburgh where Rivers is a long field goal from Heinz Field. A sports book in the stadium makes sense.

 Maybe the owners of the arenas will get a cut of the action. Or maybe they’ll do what Leonsis did and just settle for playing landlord. But converting dead space and making it profitable and driving traffic to your venue is smart business, especially on non-event days and evenings.

Either way, this latest wave in sports betting is going to hit our shores. And while it’s an old concept, it’s one that figures to prove pretty popular across the country and it may spur other states to accelerate their plans to legalize sports betting. 

I can see it now. A trip to Fenway Park will include a money-line bet on the Red Sox to go with a Fenway Frank and a beer.

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About the Author

Steve Carp

Steve Carp is a six-time Nevada Sportswriter of the Year. A 30-year veteran of the Las Vegas sports journalism scene, he covered the Vegas Golden Knights for the Las Vegas Review-Journal from 2015-2018.

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