- The Washington Times - Monday, December 26, 2011

A key D.C. Council member has asked the city’s inspector general to testify at a hearing next month on the city’s first-in-the-nation efforts to offer online gambling through its lottery system.

Jack Evans, Ward 2 Democrat, scheduled a hearing before his Committee on Finance and Revenue for Jan. 26 to get answers to the tough questions about the program now that the D.C. Lottery has held its meetings and will have generated a report for the council.

“We’ve said all along we’re waiting for guidance from the council,” lottery Director Buddy Roogow said last week.

Mr. Evans wants to know how the system will work, what the lottery learned from its public meetings and what are the potential budget risks if the program does not go forward.

Plans to establish online gambling through the D.C. Lottery have generated controversy since the council approved the program in a supplemental budget bill last December. It put lottery officials in the awkward position of forging ahead with the council’s mandate, even as members of the public question the social consequences of online gambling and the lack of public input before its passage.

“Do we give the council a chance to vote on this thing in the sunshine, now that we know all the facts, or do we want to implement this as it is since it passed” into law?” Mr. Evans said last week.

Meanwhile, the legality of the program and its role as a revenue generator in D.C. or any U.S. state received a big boost Friday.

The Justice Department issued an opinion that opens the door to online gaming via state lottery systems, a reversal from its previous position, in addressing whether Illinois and New York can use out-of-state transaction processors to sell lottery tickets to adults within their respective borders.

The federal agency said states’ use of data centers outside their borders does not violate the Wire Act of 1961 because they are not delving into sports wagering.

Its reasoning appears to echo D.C. Attorney General Irvin B. Nathan’s opinion in June that the District’s iGaming program is legally sound as long as play remains within the city’s borders.

Mr. Evans did not want to schedule a hearing until he received a report from D.C. Inspector General Charles J. Willoughby on the program and until the overall lottery contract was awarded. Mr. Willoughby suggests the report should be out by mid-January.

“I want to hear about the iGaming piece of it,” Mr. Evans said. “Is there anything they found out, that they now know, and I don’t know?”

Other testimony at the John A. Wilson Building is expected to address iGaming’s implementation in general and a bill by council member Tommy Wells, Ward 6 Democrat, to repeal the program altogether.

Lottery officials say they have no plans to change the main components of iGaming based on a series of community events to address concerns about the program, which allows approved users to wager money and play on their home computers or on their laptops in certain public areas.

However, they decided not to host iGaming on the city’s DC-NET fiber optic network, and reduced from six to four the number of games planned when the program makes its debut.

Mr. Evans said he wants his colleagues to weigh in on the iGaming, even if it makes them uncomfortable.

“I’m sure there are a lot of people who want to duck this issue, pretend it will go away,” he said. “But it’s not.”

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