The Coronavirus pandemic has affected the gambling industry across the world in many ways. Handle 19 sportsbook, which aims to be the first Class B operator for Washington, DC sports betting, is undeterred. In the current COVID-19 world, their goal remains unchanged.
Handle19 still plans to open a brick-and-mortar location in the District later this year. The brand is looking at expansion as well. A recent development on the other side of the Potomac River plays a large part in such growth.
Handle 19 sportsbook, DC sports betting and the COVID-19 impact
As casinos begin to work on plans to reopen, Handle19 looks at the pandemic situation from a different perspective. Ian G. Thomas, an attorney for Offit Kurman in Washington, D.C., who represents Handle19, shares his perspective.
“While Covid-19 has affected almost every facet of public life, believe it or not, it has had a limited impact on Handle19’s timeline,” Thomas said. “The goal was, and has always been, opening our doors by the start of the NFL season. That remains the same. Of course, the start of the NFL season appears to be a moving target at the moment. Regardless we are targeting a late summer/early fall launch.”
The pandemic has had some impact on Handle19’s opening process. Thomas shares that meetings went “socially distant” and walkthroughs at the future site went the same way. A change in location, favoring a site near Capitol Hill and Nationals Park over the original location in Adams Morgan, happened prior to the pandemic.
Thomas believes the biggest challenge may be making guests feel safe after Handle19 opens. Currently, a stay-at-home order remains in place in the District. While it’s possible that the situation may be different in August, the uncertainty makes planning difficult.
The virus’ potential impact after Handle 19’s launch date
A Reuters poll showed only 27% of its respondents plan to visit venues where crowds might gather as soon as governments allow. A full 40% of respondents indicated they wouldn’t do so until a vaccine is available. Another 40% of those people also said they would wait regardless of how long the wait endures.
It’s unclear how many of the respondents live in or regularly travel to the District. It’s also not evident how many of the respondents are potential Handle19 customers. Regardless, that data suggests part of Handle 19’s messaging upon opening should be safety.
“I think every business is struggling with these questions of safety in dealing with a virus that we are constantly learning more about and for which much still remains unknown,” Thomas added. “This challenge is made even more difficult by the fact that we are planning for an opening that is set to occur four months from now when circumstances could be entirely different. That said, we are evaluating a whole host of safety protocols and will be developing policies to adhere to the recommendations of the relevant federal and local agencies, including the CDC and the District of Columbia Department of Health. We also plan to closely track what others in the hospitality and retail gaming industry are doing to learn what safety measures are effective at protecting patrons while limiting any adverse effect on the user experience.”
Federal and local restrictions are out of Handle 19’s control. Another key component of its business is similarly beyond its direct influence. In order to offer sports wagering, sports must exist. There’s reason for both caution and optimism for Handle 19 in that regard.
Live sports are a big part of the equation
In the Steven Spielberg hit film, “Jurassic Park,” the park tour results in several no-shows of the dinosaur attractions. The scene gives birth to one of the most well-known moments of sarcasm in the movie. Dr. Ian Malcom, portrayed by Jeff Goldblum, spins the line perfectly.
“Ah, now, eventually, you do plan to have dinosaurs, on your dinosaur tour, right?”
In the same way, launching Handle 19 without a new and shiny NFL season would be a disappointment. The potential upside, however, is that absence could make the heart grow fonder.
When major North American sports do resume/start, the demand for wagering upon those sports could be historic. Handle 19 plans to be there whenever the action starts.
“As we have been seeing over the past few days, to a certain extent throughout this crisis, the appetite for sports fans to wager on athletic contests is still there,” Thomas explained. “Whether it was wagering on a Bulgarian Soccer match, table tennis, or more recently, on Korean Baseball, the metrics indicate that the desire to engage in recreational sports gambling is still very much present. It also appears that while North American sports leagues remain in limbo at the moment, European sports, particularly soccer, are slowly starting to return. As such, while delays in the return of U.S. sports leagues may alter the scope of Handle 19’s launch, we do not anticipate it altering the timeline to launch.”
North American sports leagues are watching their European counterparts to glean insight. In the same way, Handle 19 is casting its view beyond its current focus. The brand isn’t blind to recent events on the other side of the Potomac.
Handle 19 eyeing opportunities across the river
Virginia recently became the second state to legalize sports betting within its borders this year. The law there doesn’t allow Handle19 to simply mimic its current Las Vegas-style concept. That doesn’t mean Handle 19 can’t see an opportunity in Old Dominion, however. The VA law does allow for up to 12 online-only licenses.
“Handle 19 has been monitoring the developments in VA closely and is exploring ways to enter the market in that jurisdiction,” Thomas commented. “While VA is going to be a primarily mobile market, Handle19 has already begun to explore strategic partnerships that would allow it to provide mobile offerings. It is also worth noting that Handle 19 is a small minority-owned business that is fairly rare in the gaming space. This is important because the VA law provides a commitment to try to increase the participation of these types of businesses in the sports gambling industry. We believe that fact, combined with the know-how Handle 19 has developed in the regional market will uniquely position the company to submit a strong application for a license in VA.”
For the time being, however, the focus is on D.C. The brand continues to work on the same timeline despite the pandemic. What the “new normal” will require is more flexibility and the ability to adapt to changing situations quickly. Handle 19 seems to have a great handle on the situation.