DC's Sports Betting App Will Let You Bet District-Wide, Except for the Hundreds of Places It Won't Work

DC sports betters will have at least half a dozen apps to choose from. But which one you can use to place a bet will depend on your location at that moment

As the DC Lottery prepares to launch sports betting throughout the District, work is underway to create an app allowing you to bet while on the go. But the News4 I-Team found there are hundreds of places where that app won't work.

"It is going to be quite the jigsaw puzzle," said Sara Slane, an advisory board member for GeoComply.

The Canadian company is the market leader in geolocation compliance technology and is likely to perform those services for DC's sports betting provider.

"We're in 42 states right now. We process 10 million geolocation transactions every day," Slane said, adding that the restrictions for the new District app will be the most complicated of them all.

For starters, the app will only work while you're in Washington, D.C. If you're a passenger in a car heading to Virginia, it should stop working when you cross the Potomac. Commuting home to Maryland on a MARC train? You can't place a bet once you cross the state line.

"This is a warning that would come up if that were to happen," said Slane, while showing the I-Team technology already in use for New Jersey's sports betting app. During the demonstration, there were people in Maryland and Virginia actively trying to access the New Jersey app at that very moment. The app will load, but users will not be able to bet.

"Using sophisticated technology... we can make sure that people are betting where they're supposed to be betting," Slane said.

It's called geofencing, a virtual perimeter connected to GPS technology in your smartphone. Slane says it can track your location within two feet.

In real time, the GeoComply technology tracks thousands of people as they log on, knows exactly where they are, even what kind of phone they're using. She said 80 percent of New Jersey's sports bets are placed using a mobile app.

"We know when you're on the go, we're tracking you so that as soon as you are moving close to that border that it is being shut off," Slane said.

Washington DC only has 63 square miles of land. A sports wagering report compiled for the DC Lottery points out that much of that acreage is in something called the federal enclave, "where lottery products cannot be sold."

At least one part of federal law says a "lottery does not include the placing or accepting of bets or wagers on sporting events."

Federally Owned Property Within Washington, D.C.

This interactive map shows federally controlled properties in Washington, D.C., including national parks and government buildings. The D.C. lottery has not yet said which federally owned properties will be restricted from its sports betting app.

Source: Open Data DC
Credit: Anisa Holmes/NBC4

But because this sports wagering program is being managed by the DC Lottery, it may be considered a lottery product.

"A lot of that will be determined when we sit down with the District and really pinpoint where you will be able to use the app versus where you're not," Slane said.

The federal enclave is a complex designation created decades ago. The I-Team asked the Lottery for a map or list of those properties restricted for sports betting and was told it's still being developed.

The District contains hundreds of pieces of federally owned property. Some are obvious like the National Mall or Rock Creek Park, others like Kalorama Park or Meridian Hill Park could confuse would-be sports betters.

"I think the wrinkle with the federal lands definitely presents its challenges," Slane said. "It is not necessarily very easy to determine or know where there might be restrictions."

The District-wide app will also block you from placing bets within the four professional sports venues: Capital One Arena, Nats Park, Audi Field and the Entertainment and Sports Arena.

Sports Gambling Restriction Zones

The four professional sports venues — Capital One Arena, Nats Park, Audi Field and the Entertainment and Sports Arena — will each have their own app for use on-site and in the two-block restriction zones shown below. The District app will not work in those locations. Other businesses within those zones cannot have their own sports betting app.

Source: Open Data DC
Credit: Anisa Holmes/NBC4

They'll each develop their own sports betting app for use on site. Plus, they've been granted exclusive gaming rights within the surrounding two blocks, so the DC app won't let you place a bet in any of those areas either.

"Part of this does become about educating the consumers," Slane said. "This isn't because the sportsbook provider wants to shut it down, it's simply because of the regulations that are in place and they have to adhere to those."

DC is significantly smaller than New Jersey geographically, but the app will have much greater intricacy. When you sign up, it will prompt you to download the geolocation technology.

"I have no doubt that we will be successful in this," Slane said. "It's very seamless."

She hopes getting it designed will be just as seamless. The DC Lottery plans to launch its app in January.

D.C. is the first city in the nation to allow small businesses to host sports-betting operations, but the News4 I-Team found that may be a bigger gamble than first expected. Investigative Reporter Jodie Fleischer shares the unanswered questions that could keep some from getting in the game.

Small businesses like bars and restaurants will also have the opportunity to create their own sports betting apps. Those can only work while you're inside that specific property.

Once the program is up and running, sports betters in the District will have at least half a dozen apps to choose from. But which one you can use to place a bet will depend on your location at that moment.

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