Industry Sports

Monumental’s Zach Leonsis Bullish On Sports Betting, Growth In D.C.

As the NBA, NHL, WNBA, and MLB all inch closer to the resumption and start of their respective sports seasons, Zach Leonsis offered an optimistic outlook on sports betting in general and in the nation’s capital Wednesday as his group Monumental Sports & Entertainment continues to prepare offerings in conjunction with William Hill.

Serving as a keynote speaker for the SBC Digital Summit North America, Leonsis — the senior vice president of strategic initiatives for Monumental Sports & Entertainment and GM of the Monumental Sports Network — offered comments on the industry in general and detailed some of the work Monumental is doing in Washington D.C. His father Ted Leonsis owns the Washington Wizards in the NBA, Washington Capitals in the NHL, and Washington Mystics in the WNBA.

“I’ve really been impressed by learning about some of the big sportsbook companies that operate in the U.S., like DraftKings, like William Hill, like MGM, and they’re all very impressive,” the younger Leonsis explained. “When you visit their offices, they’re real blue chip organizations.

“They take the regulations incredibly seriously, they’re leveraging big data to lock out problem gamers, they’re trying to encourage responsible gaming opportunities, but they’re also driving incredible fan engagement, which drives ratings, which helps out team brands and league brands alike, and all of it is under the lock and key of Uncle Sam’s direction and gathering the tax dollars that can benefit whatever programs in individual states want to pursue.”

Praise for NBA, NHL for early acceptance of sports betting

The sea change for sports betting in the United States started in November 2014 when NBA Commissioner Adam Silver called for legal and regulated sports betting beyond Las Vegas in an op-ed for the New York Times. That helped start to change the mindset of sports betting being the “boogeyman in the U.S. market,” as Leonsis put it, and both the NBA and NHL embracing it early has helped the market overall.

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“Both the NBA and NHL understand that regulation and making sure sports betting is rolled out in an appropriate and right way is ultimately a really good thing for leagues and fans, too,” he said. “They’ve wanted to take a meticulous and very detailed approach about how things will be presented, and how it will keep the family experience at the arena on a game day preserved.

“We’re figuring out a lot of those opportunities in the brick-and-mortar space. I think that they knew it would likely be an inevitability that this would happen. Adam Silver really kicked this off … they want to be supportive, they just want it done the right way and rightfully so.”

Leonsis cited Sportradar as another key driver for sports betting gaining a foothold in the U.S. on a state-by-state basis. Sportradar is a leading data supplier for sportsbooks, media companies, and daily fantasy performers, but it was its ability to tie together integrity services at multiple levels — the leagues, sportsbooks, and local government authorities — with real-time betting that proved important.

As Leonsis noted, prior to Sportradar there was “this unregulated market of anywhere between reports of $100 billion to $400 billion in size and scale of the black market. … For the longest period of time it was untaxed, unregulated, and had no protections for American consumers.”

Navigating D.C. and Capital One Arena goals

The District of Columbia provides unique challenges for sports betting because it is not a state and also has federal lands where it is illegal to wager on sporting events. There are entertainment zones where betting can take place, and the expectation is Capital One Arena will be the first arena in the U.S. to offer in-game betting.

Monumental signed a deal with William Hill in October 2019 for in-arena betting, and the current offerings in the nation’s capital through GamBetDC have not been well-received by bettors. Leonsis expressed the goal of making Capital One Arena a destination for sports betting — almost like a sportsbook on a grander scale since casinos are illegal in the district.

“We have a unique opportunity,” he said. “There isn’t a natural home for sports betting in D.C. [Capital One Arena] is a building that’s incredibly busy, it’s booked over 230 times a year, but our building is quiet outside live-game windows. We have our offices, but a 20,000-person bowl that’s empty waiting for the event that evening.

“William Hill is taking great care to make it a first-class experience where people hang out. … We envision one-day, post-pandemic of course, when you can get several thousand people to watch an NFL Sunday together or Saturday EPL or a big pay-per-view boxing or UFC event and enjoy putting $20 on the match and enjoying dinner and a few beers with friends to watch everything together.”

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