- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 14, 2021

Ah, baseball. The smell of a hot dog roasting on a summer day, the sight of crisp white uniforms against an emerald green infield, the joyful cry of a gambler making his rent for the month when Max Scherzer smacks a 100-to-1 long-shot home run in the bottom of the third.

The national pastime’s embrace of gambling — a trend unfolding rapidly across all major professional sports — continues apace, including in Washington, where the Nationals on Monday announced a multi-year partnership with BetMGM that will put a sports book operation just outside the center field gate this summer.

The deal also calls for the development of a mobile app for use in and around the stadium.
As BetMGM Chief Revenue Officer Matt Prevost sees it, the partnership can revolutionize the fan experience at ballgames. While fans sit at Nationals Park, they can place bets throughout the game on a variety of topics — such as which team will win an inning or which player will hit a home run.

The in-game betting at the stadium can add another level of fan involvement that goes beyond just rooting for the home team.

“The idea of having ways to engage the fans during the course of the game makes logical sense,” Prevost said in a phone interview. “As the betting market takes hold in the U.S., there will be more and more of an appetite and an interest on the part of fans to bet on the outcomes of games during the games.”

BetMGM’s partnership with the Nationals for a sportsbook and app inside the stadium has been more than two years in the making, Prevost said. BetMGM introduced a special section of field-level seats at Nationals Park ahead of the 2017 campaign, called the MGM National Harbor Dugout Club.

Now, the betting company will have a larger presence at the park. The on-site sportsbook will take over the space currently used as Center Field Social, just outside the center field gate.

While ticketed fans won’t be able to enter the sportsbook from inside the park, the venue will be open year-round.

Prevost said the assumption is that if fans want to bet inside the stadium, they’ll make use of the mobile app while watching the game.

“If you’re sitting in the stands, the opportunity to bet on someone hitting a home run in the next two innings might be a way to make the game slightly more interesting, perhaps,” Prevost said.

Betting at D.C. stadiums is gaining traction, with William Hill planning to open a permanent sportsbook at Capital One Arena. D.C. United also partnered with FanDuel and hopes to open a sportsbook at Audi Field this year.

The apps used at either of those stadiums, as well as Nationals Park, will only work within the immediate vicinity. D.C. legalized sports betting in 2018 and entered a partnership with Intralot, a Greek gaming company that also operates the D.C. lottery. In May, the company launched GambetDC, the only city-wide sports betting app available.

Prevost said he expects BetMGM’s app to be certified sometime between March and June, while the sportsbook at Nationals Park may take longer to open.

He said BetMGM hopes to have that location open this summer, but construction times in Washington — plus an ongoing pandemic — might complicate that timeline. Those timeframes aren’t expected to change based on whether fans are allowed back into stadiums or not, however.

Whenever fans are back at Nationals Park, BetMGM plans to be ready for them, adding a new gameday experience beyond peanuts and Cracker Jack.

“We look at the Nationals as the centerpiece of our entire go-to-market plan in the Virginia, Maryland and D.C. area,” Prevost said. “They’re a good cultural fit with our team. And they want to continue to look for ways to engage their fans, and we’d like to be a big part of that.”

• Andy Kostka can be reached at akostka@washingtontimes.com.

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