05 Jan 2021

News:

On Handle-19 and better uses of public moneys

Have you been keeping up with the Handle-19 story? Back in February of 2020, Sportshandle profiled Shane August, the “regular guy” who is opening the sports book at 319 Pennsylvania Avenue SE. After several months of activity that include a neighbor petition to deny the sportsbook a liquor license and which has crescendoed into having ANC 6B opt to spend $14,000 to fight said liquor license, as chronicled by Capitol Hill Corner, I thought it would be a good idea to chat with Mr. August about his bar and restaurant and the controversy that surrounds it.

This owl is also keeping track of the 300 block of Pennsylvania Avenue SE. Photo by Maria Helena Carey

Shane August has spent the past two and a half years working on opening Handle-19. He was aware of the challenges that opening a sportsbook might bring, as he understands that “people are against gaming at their core.” However, August envisioned a Las Vegas-style sportsbook “where people could forget they were in DC for a minute, while keeping the integrity and culture of the area.” To that effect, August has spent the past 4-5 months educating people on what it is that he is trying to do: Provide a friendly, inviting space to watch professional football matches while allowing watching patrons to wager on the outcome of these games. All betting would happen on given game days only, Saturday and Sunday, as well as some Mondays and Thursdays after 7 p.m. The rules for maximum and minimum betting in the District, as well as all other regulations governing sports wagering, are covered by the DC Lottery— regulations to which August plans to adhere very strictly. “When there is something new, fear brings a lot of confusion,” August philosophizes.

The Pennsylvania Avenue corridor was not his first choice– as a matter of fact, he looked into opening around Adams Morgan, but at the time, found that the area was, in his words, “too lively.” August envisioned a place where there could be a quieter and “more upscale” crowd. When August came across the space at 319 Pennsylvania, “it gave me the opportunity to execute my business plan.”

What exactly is that business plan? He envisioned a “Las Vegas-style sportsbook where people could forget they were in DC for a minute, while keeping the integrity and culture of the area.” Since the current space has three floors, the main floor will be a full-service contemporary American restaurant/ sports bar. August made a point of saying that he wants his establishment to appeal to anyone who happens to be on the Hill and is looking for a comfortable place to spend a few hours. The actual sports betting would be limited to the basement, and the top floor would be dedicated to the sportsbook– these areas would be more restricted and actively monitored. And due to the gambling happening at the establishment, the place would not allow minors at all.

Handle-19 could open and operate entirely without a liquor license. ANC 6B recently approved spending $14,000 on legal fees to attempt to deny Handle-19 its liquor license, an effort that many see as a futile attempt to stop the unstoppable and a waste of money. Corey Holman, one of two ANC commissioners on 6B who did not approve of the expenditure, had this to say:

Spending $14,000 to oppose a sports betting endorsement on a liquor license… is a giant waste of money that could have been given as grants or used to increase accessibility of our meetings as we transition to hybrid virtual/in-person meetings moving forward. ANC 6B could not find an attorney with past practice and experience with the ABC Board to take on our case, even offering that sum of money. That alone speaks to the likelihood of success of the protest. ANC 6B, for as long as I’ve been active, had been a great partner with our businesses and entertainment districts, creating an environment where neighbors and operators had certainty in what could be expected through our successful use of settlement agreements covering issues like trash and operating hours. To throw that goodwill away…is perplexing. And nobody has articulated what success actually looks like. How will this process result in a materially better outcome for anyone over our standard settlement agreement process? To me, the best case scenario is the ABC Board imposes the exact same conditions we likely would have gotten in a SA and we’ve blown $14k. How is this a good use of money?

As a resident, I have been in a position where businesses have come to potentially disrupt areas close to my home, and I understand the uncertainty that comes with change, especially one that seems to be steeped in scandal and taboo, such as gambling. My neighbors and I have been derided as NIMBYs; it feels that people do not respect your right to complain as a neighbor. However, it is also a fact that sports betting is not a new thing in the District anymore, and that betting on the outcome of sporting events is something that people have been doing, with various levels of legality, for a long time. While it’s always treacherous territory to navigate new things coming to potentially disrupt the character of the neighborhood, I found speaking to August and having him patiently answer my questions about the establishment to be very enlightening. I also appreciated his commitment to his business and to focusing on helping out the neighborhood. In Virginia Beach, where he is from and where he runs similar operations to the one he intends to open here on the Hill, he gives back to the community by helming Aspire Treatment and Recovery Center of Virginia, a substance abuse treatment center. He aims to become a good neighbor here on the Hill as well, hoping to find a local non-profit he can be passionate about and support, or to establish his own, as he’s done in Virginia.


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