Thanksgiving may be over, but this year entrepreneurs in Washington, DC, have something else to be thankful for: inclusion. Thanks to language in a DC sports betting bill, the District is the only place where small business owners can apply for a license to operate a sportsbook.
You don’t see this kind of gaming inclusion in other states but that doesn’t mean it can’t happen. But for the time being, small business owners like Shane August have the opportunity to exist next to big brands like DraftKings and FanDuel.
So in honor of the holidays, I reached out to August to see how excited he was for the opportunity to compete with the biggest names in sports betting. According to the Office of Lottery and Gaming, that chance will come on Tuesday, Dec. 3, when the application process officially opens.
A conversation with Shane August
August is the proprietor of Handle 19, a soon to be new Class-B sportsbook in the Adams Morgan neighborhood of DC. I’ve covered his journey from the moment he testified before the District city council prior to the passage of a sports betting bill. He’s one of the very few small business entrepreneurs who has taken this opportunity and turned it into a reality.
So the last time we talked you were excited about landing a retail location, can you give me a small update on what’s been going on?
Man, we are ready to go! All of the dots have been connected and the ball is really out of our hands. We are waiting on the lottery to open up the application process. If you go back, on October 17, 2018, I’m on the record to the city council saying we are going to be first in line. We still have that as one of our goals. It wasn’t easy but as soon as they open the application process, we are locked and ready to go.
Your sportsbook is called Handle 19. Walk me through it. What’s it going to be like walking into that space versus other Class-B locations.
Our competitors on the class-b side, they are just your local watering holes. From our market research, these bars & restaurants are going to install a kiosk here and a kiosk there — our approach is a full Vegas-style sportsbook. We put so much work into this location but now we just have to wait till we can apply. Our objective for the fans is, once you step inside our location we want you to forget that you’re in DC. We want you to feel as if you have entered a sportsbook in Las Vegas or Atlantic City. A lot of properties on the Class-B side are going to be bar’s that feature sports betting. We are going to be a sportsbook that features a bar.
There have been a lot of industry experts up in arms about this Intralot contract. What are your thoughts on the matter?
We try to stay out of that because it really doesn’t have anything to do with us. Once the bill was passed and enacted into law, we have just been focused on making sure our ducks are in a row so we can operate properly, effectively and in a compliant manner. But when they are fighting over the mobile contract, that really doesn’t have anything to do with us.
What do you say to other local entrepreneurs if they reach out to you for advice?
First of all, I have to take that phone call. I’ve been on the other side of that call before so I need to make it clear — anyone who needs information or advice on how to break into this market, I’m no expert but I’m more than happy to speak with anybody. Again, this is a new industry. This isn’t a fad or a wave, sports betting in American is here to stay. We need to encourage more people to get involved. If you have a passion for business and have a passion for sports and you want to break into this industry, I’m happy to talk.
In the DC market, what sports do you anticipate most people will be betting on?
I think it will be interesting because the DC sports betting market couldn’t be established at a better time. The Washington Nationals just won the World Series, The Washington Mystics just won the WNBA title, and the Washington Capitals are really competitive. I think from a local perspective you will get a lot of support just betting on local teams. People in DC are loyal but also, its the Nations Capital, so you have people from all parts of the country. Teams have crazy fan bases in DC. I think the market is going to surprise a lot of people so it’s import for us to provide as many betting options as possible.
What sports have you been following recently?
Believe it or not, I watch everything. With my cable tv package, I’m paying so much to watch sports, politics, financial markets, and the news. Right now my Saturdays are filled with college football and my Sundays with NFL football. The rest of the week, I have the NBA to kind of quench my thirst. I’m really just a fan of competition. For the most part, I’m like everyone else, on the couch watching sports.
A small business perspective on sports betting markets
As I mentioned before, inclusion plays a big role when it comes to the DC market. It’s unique. That’s what makes it different and worth watching. When you look at New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and even Indiana, they are dominated by the big brands.
“I think all the work they did to repeal PASPA, they didn’t do that so five or six companies that were already flourishing could flourish even more,” August said. “I think they did it to invite more entrepreneurs more businesses into the market place. That brings more competition which ultimately makes things better.”
August is right. The FanDuel’s and DraftKings of the world are busy protesting the lack of competition in DC when it comes to the mobile side of things. What about the underdogs of the industry who until now have been on the outside looking in?
Establishing a presence for DC sports betting
Handle 19 has taken the first steps to make sure they can compete at the highest level. On October 8, they solidified a partnership with Newgioco, a global gaming technology company based in Europe.
“It was a match made in heaven, I say that because they have some of the same principles and core values that we do,” August said. “Also, our level of aggression matches what they do. They are heavily established in the European market and they want to break in here and we are trying to do the same thing. So it just worked.”
On top of that, August told me he has had talks with the Washington Redskins who are looking to get involved with at the local level.
“[The Washington Redskins] want to get involved with a local sports betting location and we have been communicating with them throughout the year and we anticipate, once we are licensed we can bring them on and that will help drive traffic to our space. It’s been a long year but our work has paid off,” August said.
Perhaps all this will show other states that small businesses can run sportsbooks just as well as the big brands. That inclusion on every level should be part of the conversation. August has faith in that last part.
“Once we prove our concept in DC we are looking at other jurisdictions to really compete,” he said.