After becoming the first D.C. bar of its kind to win a coveted sports wagering license last week, Adams Morgan standby Grand Central plans to have a staffed ticket teller window and two betting kiosks up and running in by October.
Once it opens for betting, Grand Central will run a sportsbook at 2447 18th Street NW seven days a week from 10 a.m. to 1 a.m. Co-owner Brian Vasile says the bar, which acts as a second home for Buffalo Bills fans with hot wings, beef on weck sandwiches, and marinated skewers of Spiede chicken, has tripled its number of TVs from seven to 21 and boasts DirecTV packages for major sports leagues.
Navigating the application process as a Class B operator with D.C.’s Alcohol Beverage Regulation Administration (ABRA) and Office of Lottery and Gaming (OLG) took Vasile nine months, he says, and required him to raise $100,000 during the pandemic to pay the fee for an initial 5-year license. Vasile says he’s been hoping to cash in on sports wagering since D.C. passed an amendment into law in 2019. That legislation followed a landmark 2018 Supreme Court ruling allowing states to legalize sports betting.
As of August 31, 2021, Grand Central was one of only three D.C. businesses to hold a sportsbook license, and the only Class B operator. The other two are Class A operators, a bigger category set aside for facilities attached to pro sports arenas. The William Hill Sportsbook opened a bar in Capital One Arena in June. A Bet MGM facility is already taking bets at Nationals Park through an app, and an on-site sportsbook there is expected to open sometime this year.
There’s one other Class B application listed as “under review” on the OLG’s latest update: Mt. Vernon Triangle strip club Cloakroom. Bar and restaurant owners have to gain approval from OLG and ABRA to activate a license. The latest batch of public protest notices posted by ABRA indicate that a bar called Handle 19 — slated to move into the former Maddy’s Taproom space downtown — and restaurant properties under the company that owns Ivy City Tavern are seeking sports wagering endorsements from the liquor authority. ExPat, a new hospitality group that includes prominent D.C. chef Tim Ma, is also targeting betting as a core part of its business, starting with a sports bar coming to Foggy Bottom in 2022.
Vasile says it’s difficult to project the financial impact of adding sports betting because there’s no local precedent. “I can’t put a dollar amount on it, but I can absolutely say it should rival the food and beverage sales,” he says. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Vasile says he divested his stake in two other local businesses he opened with Andy Seligman, Capo deli in Shaw and Brickside Food & Drink in Bethesda, to focus on Grand Central. OLG documents list Leonidas Vondas as another principal at Grand Central, which opened in 2007.
While casino conglomerates own and operate the sportsbooks at Capital One Arena and Nationals Park, Grand Central partnered with Elys Game Technology as a licensed Management Service Provider that makes its own odds and supplies the digital kiosks. Elys will also eventually supply a geo-fenced mobile app so Grand Central customers can bet on their phones. According to Elys, the company supports gaming in about 1,200 venues in Italy and is operating in five states. “They’ve been around a long time, I think 25 or 30 years,” Vasile says. “They have thousands of locations like these overseas and in Europe.”
In late July, D.C. Lottery installed sports betting kiosks inside four bars: Ben’s Next Door on U Street NW, Lou’s City Bar in Columbia Heights, Dirty Water Sports Bar on H Street NE, and Takoma Station Tavern. The city’s contracted sports betting app, GambetDC, has massively underperformed. The Washington Post reports that an original projection for $22 million in revenue for fiscal year 2021 was bumped down to $6 million, and in reality had only pulled in $230,000 by May, according to testimony by a lottery official.