D.C. Council member wants to repeal online gambling

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A D.C. Council member said Tuesday that he wants to repeal a provision that would make the nation’s capital the first jurisdiction in the country to offer legal online gambling.

Tommy Wells, Ward 6 Democrat, said he plans to introduce legislation this fall that would stop online gambling before it starts.

Online gambling was authorized outside the usual legislative process. Council member Michael A. Brown, at-large independent, added it to a budget bill late last year, and it became law in April when Congress did not object. The D.C. Lottery is preparing to start offering online poker, blackjack, slot machines and other games.
Mr. Wells said he objected to the way online gambling became law and said he did not fully understand the measure when it was slipped into the budget.

“It’s not good government. It’s not transparent,” Mr. Wells said. He first announced his plan to repeal online gambling during an appearance on NewsChannel 8.

It’s not clear whether any of Mr. Wells' council colleagues would support a repeal. Council member Jack Evans, Ward 2 Democrat, held a hearing on the D.C. Lottery’s plans last month that prompted the lottery to delay its plans for implementation until after Oct. 1, the start of the 2012 fiscal year.

Mr. Evans, chairman of the council’s Committee on Finance and Revenue, said Tuesday that he’s spoken to Mr. Wells about the issue but does not favor repealing online gambling at this point. He plans to hold another hearing in October.

“I’m not going to do it until I’m very comfortable that this thing is OK,” Mr. Evans said. “It could be a long time or not. I don’t have a timetable in mind. It’s not going to go into effect certainly until after October, if at all.”

Mr. Evans said that because the law has been approved but not implemented, the council has ample opportunity to give it the vetting it needs.

D.C. Lottery Director Buddy Roogow is planning to hold community forums in all eight of the city’s wards to listen to concerns from residents and said Tuesday he would give “great weight” to the concerns aired at those meetings.

Some residents who testified at the June hearing said they were concerned about the prospect of bars, restaurants and hotels becoming destinations for gambling. The lottery plans to make gambling available through Internet protocol addresses at businesses before allowing people to log on from home.

Gamblers would have to be at least 19 years old, and the lottery intends to cap deposits in online accounts at $250 a week. The limits on wagering are meant to appeal to recreational players and not to poker professionals who’ve been out of work since federal authorities shut down the three most popular online poker sites this spring.

Intralot, the city’s Greece-based lottery vendor, is developing the online gambling platform and will collect 51 percent of the net revenues, with the rest going to the District. The District’s chief financial officer has estimated that online gambling could generate $13 million for the government over four years.

Mr. Wells said he was not morally opposed to gambling but that he wasn’t sure how the new program would benefit the District.

“For some people, gambling can really be an addiction,” he said. “I want to know what the public good is.”

Mr. Brown, who has pushed hard for the District to become the first government to offer online gambling, said no other council members have signaled their displeasure with the way the program was approved. He said he supported Mr. Evans‘ efforts to ensure the public had a say in its implementation.

“I want it to be done right, not fast,” he said.

Mr. Wells‘ power on the council was diminished last week when Council Chairman Kwame R. Brown stripped him of his chairmanship of the transportation committee. Mr. Wells was the only member to vote against the change. After the vote, he said his commitment to ethics and good government made some of his colleagues “uncomfortable.”

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