Nearby Neighbors Oppose Sports Gambling Business on PA Avenue SE
by Larry Janezich
Feelings ran strong last night at an ANC6B sponsored virtual community meeting to hear input from neighbors on the proposed sport betting establishment at 319 PA Avenue, SE. Some 20 residents joined in and many expressed vehement objections. Only one resident voiced support for the business – Handle 19 – which would be the first of its kind in the city. (See CHC post here: https://bit.ly/3byz84y )
Objections centered on the perception of gambling as a business that brings social ills and security risks to a neighborhood of townhomes which surrounds the commercial strip fronting on Pennsylvania Avenue. One neighbor said there were five elementary schools and a dozen day care centers within six blocks, and “alcohol, gambling and kids don’t mix”. A petition of opposition emphasizing that idea is being circulated. Another saw the company as a crime risk which works counter to community efforts to reduce crime. Another said, “I don’t think it’s going to work because we will not let it happen,” adding that neighbors will appeal to Councilmember Charles Allen and Mayor Bowser. Several cited a lack of notice that the license was coming before the ANC.
Ian G. Thomas, attorney for Handle 19, presented the other side, saying it’s better to have a thriving business than an empty building. “The reality is that sport betting is here in DC,” and it’s better to have it happen in a controlled environment than in a bar where wagers can be placed via an app downloaded to a phone. He said that Handle 19 wants to work with the residents and be a good neighbor; “Sports gambling is here, like it or not – we have an additional responsibility to address any ills that come out of it.”
Chander Jayaraman, Chair of the ANC6B ABC Committee, outlined the process and hinted that it might be hard to stop the business from opening because the ultimate decision will be in the hands of the Alcohol Beverage Control Board.
The ANC6B is caught between representing the neighbors who fear their quality of life will be affected and the reality of the fact that ANC opposition would require a majority of the ANC to vote to protest the gambling license (on grounds of noise, detriment to the community or detriment to property values). That would trigger an ABRA required mediation process and if that fails to resolve concerns, the next step would be litigated protest hearing with legal counsel before ABRA. ABRA would finally decide the matters with the usual outcome being granting of the license with conditions.
ANC6B Chair Brian Ready, attempting to arrange a fallback position, suggested another meeting between the community and the owner to work out a Settlement Agreement which would incorporate language to address as many concerns of the nearby neighbors as possible, in case an ultimate favorable decision by ABRA is the outcome.
Jayaraman proposed a one month extension in order to give parties an opportunity to work out operating restrictions for the Settlement Agreement and the owners of Handle 19 said they would consider it.
Otherwise, the matter will be taken up by ANC6B ABC Committee at its October virtual meeting next Thursday, followed by consideration at the full ANC6B meeting on Tuesday, October 13.