D.C. online poker talks going nowhere

House panel rebuts Brown deadline

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Just because Congress didn’t object to a bill authorizing online gambling in the District doesn’t necessarily mean that federal lawmakers agree that the city can start running online poker.

D.C. Council member Michael A. Brown on Tuesday announced the city was authorized to move forward in talks with vendors to become the first jurisdiction in the country to allow online gambling. His comments came after the mandatory congressional review period of a D.C. budget bill that contained a provision authorizing online gambling expired this week.

But a spokesman for the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee said Wednesday that the 30-day time period cited by Mr. Brown was merely symbolic and does not bar future action.

“That’s not how Congress reviews controversial legislation passed by the District of Columbia,” committee spokesman Frederick Hill said. “In practice, that is done through the normal legislative process or through spending bills or riders that restrict federal funds based on the implementation of certain laws.”

Despite Mr. Brown’s announcement, made to the Associated Press, Mr. Hill said the issue has not yet come up in Congress in the form of a hearing or a bill that would require action. Until it does, he said, “There is no specific plan to block the legislation.”

But Mr. Brown, at-large independent who introduced the measure, told The Washington Times that he was pleased that the District had gotten the green light ahead of several states considering online gambling.

“Any jurisdiction likes to be the first in innovative and new legislation,” he said.

On Wednesday, D.C. Chief Financial Officer Natwar M. Gandhi, who oversees the D.C. Lottery that would run the online poker system, signaled that his office is ready to move forward as well. Mr. Gandhi has projected that the city could collect $13 million by fiscal 2014 through online gambling.

David J. Umansky, a spokesman for Mr. Gandhi, brushed aside warnings sounded by former D.C. Attorney General Peter J. Nickles in December that the District’s poker law would need to clear multiple federal legal hurdles before it could be implemented. “What’s his name?” he wrote in an email, referring to Mr. Nickles.

“The council passed a bill, the mayor signed it into law. Congress did not overrule it,” wrote Mr. Umansky in the email. He declined to answer questions about whether the District’s new attorney general, Irvin B. Nathan, has undertaken the legal review recommended by his predecessor, and specified that D.C. will offer online poker only within city boundaries.

Mr. Nathan’s office had no comment.

To play online poker in the District, Mr. Brown said players would log on from home or seek out “hot spots” at hotels or other locales within the District’s borders. He expects D.C. Lottery to roll out free games in the next few weeks to get players acclimated, before actual games “go live” in coming months.

Mr. Brown, a lawyer who was arrested Monday night with D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray and 39 others protesting congressional meddling in D.C. affairs, said he does not fear intervention from Congress.

Congress can put a rider on anything. We can’t lose sleep over that,” he said, adding, “There is no federal law that prohibits this.”

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