- The Washington Times - Monday, July 4, 2011

Players can lose only as much as $250 a week in the D.C. Lottery’s upcoming online gambling program, but there is no limit on how much they can win on a hot streak, said Buddy Roogow, executive director of the city-run D.C. Lottery and Charitable Games Control Board.

“There’s no way for us to put a cap on what you can win,” he said.

If the District successfully implements the program, known as I-Gaming, it will be the first jurisdiction in the country to offer gambling over the Internet. Still, before players see dollar signs flash before their eyes, they have a few limitations to consider.

The maximum weekly deposit of $250 limits the potential for big payouts, Mr. Roogow says.

Blackjack odds would be similar to those in real casino play, and Bingo is at fixed odds. The odds will be posted to the public and tend to skew in favor of the house, Mr. Roogow told D.C. Council member Tommy Wells, Ward 6 Democrat, during a hearing on the program last week.

The poker game Texas Hold ‘Em is a different scenario because gamers play against each other and the lottery will make its money on the “rake,” or fixed fee that goes to the house.

“We don’t care who wins and who loses, in a sense,” Mr. Roogow said. The lottery has not set the rake amount yet, but it is typically about 5 percent of the pot.

Mr. Roogow says any instances of collusion in multiplayer games should be caught by software that tracks suspicious trends. It may not catch collusion in the first hand, “but it won’t take long,” he said.

Other methods of cheating, such as counting cards, are “easily defeated” through use of multiple decks and repeated shuffling in the online games, he added.

How far an individual player’s money goes depends on his or her luck and skill during periods of continuous play. No games are available during the agency’s so-called “cooling period” of 4 to 10 a.m.

The I-Gaming program has been controversial, both in plans for implementation and how it became law.

Council member Michael A. Brown, at-large independent, inserted the measure into a supplemental budget act in December rather than using the normal legislative process with public hearings.

Council member Jack Evans, Ward 2 Democrat, who held the hearing last week, says there has not been enough public input on the locations of “hot spots” or areas where the games can be played on laptops. He’s suggesting the agency slow down its plans for real betting by early fall.

Mr. Roogow said the lottery will “meet or exceed” Mr. Evans’ expectations through meetings in every ward and is not required to stick to its Sept. 8 rollout date.

Critics of the plan also are concerned about the new game’s impact on poor residents, whether gambling can take place in public buildings and if revenue projections of $13 million over four years are accurate.

Mr. Brown has defended the measure, saying it will bring much-needed revenue and regulate an online gaming community that goes unchecked.

To refute a “myth” going around the city, Mr. Roogow said, the lottery has no interest in forming “gambling parlors.” The hot spots likely will be located in places such as hotels, bars and cafes and be known to the public before implementation, he said.

The spots provide a formalized way to do what people do already, Mr. Roogow said, which is “sit down, have a cup of coffee and open up a website.”