ANC6B Poised to Formally Protest Sports Gambling on PA Ave SE
By Larry Janezich
Driven by staunch opposition from nearby residential neighbors, last Thursday night, ANC6B’s Alcohol Licensing Committee voted 5 – 0 to protest Handle 19’s application for a liquor license with a sports gambling endorsement to operate at 319 PA Ave SE. The recommendation will go to the full ANC6B (virtual) meeting for a vote Tuesday, November 10.
The full ANC is all but certain to ratify the protest and convey that decision to the Alcohol Beverage Regulation Administration (ABRA). That agency will schedule a hearing to hear from both the ANC and neighbor organizations which have joined the protest as well as from the applicant. Next, ABRA will schedule a mediation to see if the opposing sides can find common ground and agree to limitations on the operation that would resolve residents’ concerns. If that fails, ABRA will move forward to a full protest hearing where the matter will be litigated – involving legal counsel, witnesses, and cross examinations before ruling on the case.
Applicant and owner of Handle 19 Shane August’s position is that gaming is legal in DC and he has every right to open a gaming business and restaurant.
Brian Wise, representing some 20 nearby neighbors told the Committee that August had refused to meet with them to discuss their concerns. One neighbors attending the virtual meeting cited a study demonstrating the decrease in property values and increase in community crime associated with gaming establishments. ANC6B Commissioner Steve Holtzman said the issue is not about gaming but about the impact of the business model on the neighborhood, particularly the increase in traffic on PA Avenue and demand for parking that the business will generate. Karen Clay, principal at nearby St. Peter School, said the proposed drinking and gambling venue producing winners and losers will present a danger to school children dismissed at 3:30pm.
The proposed establishment will seat 60 people but total occupancy would be 199. Neighbor Joyce Jones pressed August what the 139 patrons who are not dining will be doing. Handle 19 attorney Ian Thomas said they’d be at the bar. Jones, replied, “I get it – hanging out.”
Following the 5 – 0 vote to recommend a protest, Chair Brian Ready, a Las Vegas native, asserted that gaming is legal everywhere in Nevada and the quality of life is not worse than in DC. None the less, he said his constituents overwhelmingly oppose gaming at the proposed location, and as their representative, he would have to vote to protest.
At the end of the meeting, August said they were steadfast and focused on their game plan and looked forward to being part of the neighborhood. August then added, almost as an aside, “We’re willing to operate without alcohol.” The meeting adjourned without discussion of the comment. Afterward, ABC Committee chair Chander Jayaraman told CHC, “That goes completely contrary to what (Handle 19 attorney) Ian Thomas said they wanted to do, which is to run a restaurant with sports betting as an aside.”
An issue which has not surfaced in the debate in ANC6B is the potential for other establishments on PA Avenue SE – or new ones – to pursue gaming licenses in order to remain competitive should Handle 19 prove to be successful. This possibility came up in a discussion of gaming in ANC6C last month.
On October 14, ANC6C discussed games of skill in anticipation of applications for gaming licenses for H Street, NE, establishments. Commissioner Joel Kelty expressed strong reservations. He noted that the city council had authorized three forms of gambling: DC Lottery, games of skill, and games of chance. He said he was not opposed to gambling but doesn’t want sports betting in H Street bars and restaurants because “licensing gaming establishments will lead to less diversity in retail and more bars and restaurants”. It would be better located, he said, downtown or in an arts and entertainment district. In addition, he said he is opposed to the co-existence of alcohol and gambling, and noted that gaming decreases revenue for DC Lottery.