The D.C. Lottery’s plan to introduce unprecedented online gambling in the District is legal as long as play occurs within city borders, the District’s top lawyer said Wednesday.
Attorney General Irvin B. Nathan said the measure complies with federal laws and may proceed toward its September launch date with “continual and close monitoring.”
Nevertheless, there are widespread concerns about how the program, known as I-Gaming, passed the D.C. Council and how it will be implemented in coming months.
Witnesses before the council’s Committee on Finance and Revenue on Wednesday said they were worried the program was being rolled out too quickly.
More time is needed, they said, to look at network security, the wisdom of wagering dollars with the click of a mouse and the placement of gaming “hot spots” in the community.
Committee Chairman Jack Evans, Ward 2 Democrat, called the hearing to publicly vet concerns after the law passed within a supplemental budget bill in December without any public hearings.
With six games in the pipeline, the District would be the first jurisdiction in the United States to offer Internet-based gambling.
“I want to make sure if we go first, we’re going to get this right,” Mr. Evans said.
Council member Michael A. Brown, at-large independent, introduced the law and frequently defended it during Wednesday’s hearing. He said his council colleagues were fully aware of the proposal before they voted it into law.
The proposal is a win-win that regulates an online hobby people engage in anyway, while generating revenue for the District, he said.
Buddy Roogow, executive director of the D.C. Lottery, testified his office has installed safeguards ahead of the release of two demonstration games in late July, Blackjack and Victory at Sea, and four more games in August. Actual betting begins on or about Sept. 8.
Players can only deposit $250 per week, must use debit cards and not credit cards, and can sign up for self-exclusions, or agreements that bar people with gambling problems from acting on their impulses.
Earlier in the day, D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray said in response to questions at his weekly news briefing that he wanted a better understanding of how I-Gaming would be regulated before making a decision on whether he supports the practice. Of special interest was how the D.C. Lottery would “ensure people being involved in this type of gambling are in the jurisdiction,” Mr. Gray said.
The lottery must verify the age and Internet Protocol (IP) address of every player through a secure log-in, Mr. Roogow said at the council hearing.
Mr. Evans was concerned that Advisory Neighborhood Commission members and other members of the public have not had adequate notice of the lottery’s plans and the chance to object to “hot spots” in their communities.