It's 9 a.m. on a Sunday in December, and the doors to the new Washington Wizards arena, the Netflix Center, are open. The Wizards won't host the Charlotte Hornets until later that evening, but already more than 1,100 fans can be heard in the arena. Why?
They're here to watch Manchester United and Chelsea on the big screen and to bet on the game, of course. Cheering and screaming with every goal, many have a stake in the game through WizBet, the Wizards' betting app.
The year is 2023, and sports betting is now legal in Washington, D.C. (as well as nearly the entire U.S.). The most progressive owners, such as Wizards and Capitals owner Ted Leonsis, are turning their arenas into sports books -- even when action isn't taking place on the court or ice.
Here's a glimpse into what the future of a legalized U.S. sports betting world could look like:
A full-day experience
At noon inside the Netflix Center, when all the Premier League action is over, the crowd starts to grow. The concession stands flip from breakfast to lunch. A huge projector drops from the arena roof, and feeds from all the early NFL games are brought in. Fans punch in a number on their iPhone XV's, and wireless earbuds allow them to hear the broadcast from the game of their choice.
On the app, fans wirelessly connect their phones to the arena Rumble chairs. When a big play happens in a game, the chair lights up and vibrates: red for a play that is negative for that bettor, green for a play that's positive. There are no kiosks to place bets, as there are no humans needed to cash bets. Bets are stored and recorded in a virtual wallet, which can be used immediately inside the arena or transferred to a bank.
"And then, if you are a big bettor with us, you're automatically rewarded with more," Leonsis recently told ESPN.
Remember, the competition is fierce. Not only is there a huge battle among venues to determine whom people are betting with, but there is a battle among apps as well, as the best interface that includes both game broadcast and betting screen will win -- even if people opt to stay in their living rooms.
For those at home, the messages on the TV are hard to avoid. In 2020, NBA commissioner Adam Silver tells the league's television partners that they can accept only 10 gambling ads per game. Those in the betting business get around the commercial price war by having opt-in offers that come to gamblers' devices during games.
For teams that don't have their own operations, the league allows one gaming sponsor and two additional non-exclusive gaming sponsors in an arena.
Back at the Netflix Center, the biggest bettor is sitting in the newest of blinged-out suites. The suite has a bed in it. The bathroom has his toothbrush and razor, and his shampoo is in the shower. It comes with everything from housekeeping to bottle service. Yes, sports betting has turned some arenas into hotels.
By the time of tipoff for Wizards-Hornets that night, some people will have been in the venue all day, a major change from 2018, when the arena opened one hour before tipoff. The betting app syncs up to special glasses, which allow a fan to watch the floor and, at the same time, see a virtual scoreboard of how his or her bets are doing. With each action on the court, the probabilities of the bet to cash in change in real time.
After the game, a fan who won $44,000 from his bets that night clicks on a pop-up offer from the Wizards to meet game MVP Zion Williamson when the buzzer sounds. After the television interview, Williamson shakes the hand of the bettor, takes a picture and signs his game-worn shoes. The money he just won is erased from his virtual wallet. The team, just like the house in Vegas, wins again.
Back in the here and now, as the Supreme Court decides whether to continue with the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) of 1992 that could repeal the federal ban on sports gambling, the sports world is imagining how it will cash in and beginning to maneuver resources. The leader in the clubhouse has been the NBA, whose commissioner, Silver, has defended the idea of paying a 1 percent fee on every NBA bet, in part, he says, to defray the cost of building a system to monitor legal betting.
But it's much bigger than that. If Leonsis has his way, fans are betting in his arena, on his app, making and tracking their bets using data prepared by a company that he partially owns. There will be billions of dollars available for the taking all of a sudden, and teams and leagues will spend countless dollars trying to win the battle for the fan.
Sound like pure fantasy? Don't bet on it.