- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 4, 2011

The D.C. Lottery has rolled out a schedule of meetings in each of the city’s eight wards to discuss its controversial online gambling program.

Lottery Director Buddy Roogow said details were ironed out earlier this week before the dates, spanning Aug. 16 to Sept. 14, were announced Thursday.

The Internet gambling program, known as i-Gaming, would be the first of its kind in the nation. Yet questions about its community impact and how it passed muster with the D.C. Council in the first place caused city officials to tap the brakes on the program to pursue input from residents.

Authorized by a measure tucked into a supplemental budget bill in December by council member Michael A. Brown, at-large independent, it was not subject to hearings or other forms of public vetting.

The program would allow registered persons within the District to wager money on games such as poker and blackjack within their homes or on their laptops at “trusted sites” in designated hotels or other areas, mainly so visitors to the city also can play.

The form and location of the public areas — colloquially known as “hot spots” — became a source of contention in addition to questions surrounding gambling addiction and “randomly generated numbers” games that were condemned by some as online slot machines.

The lottery quickly found itself trying to quell the public outcry as it attempted to implement the law to gain the revenue calculated into the fiscal year 2012 budget and keep up with gambling ventures in neighboring states.

One council member, Ward 6 Democrat Tommy Wells, said in a recent interview that the bill ought to be repealed.

“I can’t comment on the council’s actions or their comments,” Mr. Roogow said Thursday. “As of now, it’s in the law. … Lacking other direction, we’re still moving forward in what we hope is the most responsible way.”

Council member Jack Evans, Ward 2 Democrat, asked for additional public input on the program before its scheduled start date in early September, based on comments at a June hearing on the issue.

The lottery agreed to delay implementation and set up meetings throughout the city.
Mr. Roogow said the meetings will allow lottery officials to present a PowerPoint explanation of the i-Gaming program and dispel myths about its impact on communities.

“These are not brick-and-mortar casinos,” he said. “There isn’t an impact on traffic. There’s not an impact on zoning regulations.”

The first meeting is for leaders of advisory neighborhood commissions, one day before the Ward 4 meeting at the Petworth Library on Aug. 17.

The meetings, hosted at libraries and community centers, will contain a question-and-answer period that gives preference to residents of the ward in which the meeting is held, Mr. Roogow said.

Each ward’s council member has been invited to come to his or her respective meeting, although the lottery has not yet confirmed whether each will attend.

“They probably didn’t see [the schedule] in their mailboxes until today,” Mr. Roogow said.
The final meeting is scheduled for Sept. 8 in Ward 6 before a meeting for the full council on Sept. 14.

Proponents of i-Gaming say the program is an innovative way to bring money into city coffers while regulating an online hobby that people engage in, illegally, on offshore websites.

They contend that i-Gaming is needed to compete with a casino project under construction at Arundel Mills in Maryland and an already successful casino at Charles Town, W.Va.

“People are taking their money out of the District,” Mr. Roogow said, “and doing these things in West Virginia, Delaware or Maryland.”