- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 22, 2011

The D.C. Council will not consider a bill that would repeal first-in-the-nation efforts to implement online gambling in the District until the completion of community meetings on the controversial program.

Council member Jack Evans, Ward 2 Democrat and chairman of the Committee on Finance and Revenue, said he will not call a hearing to approve i-Gaming — or consider the newly introduced legislation to get rid of it — until the public has a chance to weigh in on the initiative this fall.

“The whole shebang, that’s how we’re going to deal with it,” Mr. Evans said.

The D.C. Lottery committed to meetings in all eight wards of the city after a hearing in Mr. Evans‘ committee in June, when a citizens group and other critics testified the measure was not properly vetted before it was placed in a supplemental budget bill in December. Initial meetings were scheduled and then postponed over complaints about the late-summer dates.

Mr. Evans said his eventual hearing will include any input from the D.C. inspector general about i-Gaming and how the council awarded the underlying lottery contract about two years ago. The council member himself is subject to a subpoena in a lawsuit over the contract, but he believes the council’s attorney will be able to quash it.

“I don’t have much to say, anyway,” Mr. Evans said, noting it would set a bad precedent for calling government officials to depositions. He said the issue will not cloud his ability to preside over hearings on i-Gaming.

The lottery initially planned to introduce six games, including poker and blackjack, in September. Although it has legal authority to implement the program, it has pledged not to move forward until community interests are satisfied.

Council members Tommy Wells, Ward 6 Democrat, and Phil Mendelson, at-large Democrat, introduced a bill on Tuesday to repeal the part of the law that authorizes i-Gaming. Council member David A. Catania, at-large independent, signaled from the dais that he would co-sponsor the bill.

“This legislation will allow us, the public, to have the conversation that we didn’t have last year, and give us the chance to weigh the pros and cons in full daylight before making a decision about whether or not this makes sense for the residents of the District of Columbia,” Mr. Wells said.

Mr. Wells said he is not sure how the rest of his colleagues at City Hall feel about the issue.

“I haven’t walked the building yet,” he said.

D.C. Council Chairman Kwame R. Brown told The Washington Times this month he must thoroughly review the bill before commenting on it. However, his overall stance on games of chance is clear.

“Any form of gambling, I oppose it,” he said.

At least one council member, Michael A. Brown, is a clear proponent of the measure. Mr. Brown, at-large independent, introduced the i-Gaming legislation into the budget bill and defended it in a “Dear Colleagues” letter last week that sought to clear up any misconceptions about the program.

Mr. Brown reiterated that the program has, in fact, been passed into law, and his colleagues have not jumped to strike it down.

“One person raised their hand,” he said of co-sponsors for the repeal.

Mr. Brown has touted the program as a “win-win” way to generate revenue for the District while regulating a hobby that goes on, illegally, on offshore websites.

Critics say the program was sneaked into the budget bill last year. They are also concerned about the effect of online gambling addiction on city residents who do not have disposable income.

Either way, D.C. residents will not be opening their wallets until the lottery schedules its town-hall-style meetings.

“If they don’t,” Mr. Evans said, “we’re not going to have a hearing until they do.”

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