The D.C. Council's top proponent of online gambling through the city's lottery system plans to offer a compromise bill on Tuesday to avoid a complete repeal of the program that was passed into law in 2010.
Council member Michael A. Brown, at-large independent, said the council should not rescind its legal authority to offer wagered games within the District, even if they want to revisit the earlier contract that set the table for first-in-the-nation program known as iGaming.
"There's no reason to throw out the baby with the bathwater," he said. "I don't think we should throw out a totally legitimate law that will reap at least $150 million over the next 10 to 15 years."
Mr. Brown attached the iGaming law to a supplemental budget bill in December 2010, leading to its passage but causing an outcry among those who felt the controversial program should have been vetted through a stand-alone bill and public hearings.
For months, the D.C. Lottery had planned to offer four wagered games to pre-approved players on home computers or select public sites after a round of demonstration play. The controversy around iGaming prompted a series of community meetings to gauge support for the program and dispel concerns among people who feared brick-and-mortar casinos or other drastic changes to the city would follow.
Earlier this month, D.C. Inspector General Charles Willoughby said problems with iGaming stretch back to early 2010, when the D.C. Lottery contract with Greek vendor Intralot was "materially changed" to include the online games shortly after its approval in December 2009. Council members in favor of the repeal said they had no way of knowing that "non-traditional" games in the contract could amount to online gambling.
Mr. Willoughby said the contract should have been rebid with explicit reference to iGaming, so the parties could compete on an even playing field and produce the best price for the District.
D.C. Chief Financial Officer Natwar M. Gandhi has flatly rejected the inspector general's findings, arguing each bidder weighed in on potential online games during the procurement process.
Nonetheless, the council's Committee on Finance and Revenue on Wednesday voted 3-2 in favor of the repeal bill spearheaded by council member Tommy Wells, Ward 6 Democrat. In doing so, the majority cited the shaky process that led to iGaming and a cloud of unrelated ethical lapses that hovers over city hall.
Committee Chairman Jack Evans, Ward 2 Democrat, stood by the decision to repeal iGaming ahead of the full council's vote on the bill at Tuesday's legislative meeting.
"I will be moving a bill to repeal and voting for it," Mr. Evans said Monday at a pre-meeting press briefing. "Whether or not there are seven votes for it, I don't know."
Mr. Evans said his colleagues should be up-to-speed on the issues that surround iGaming.
"If they're not, they shouldn't be here, to be honest with you," Mr. Evans said.
Council member Marion Barry, Ward 8 Democrat, is the only lawmaker on the 12-member council who has sided with Mr. Brown's point of view.
Asked if he can rally additional support for a compromise, Mr. Brown said, "I guess we'll find out."
Mr. Brown argued the District is squandering its chance to be at the forefront of the market share in online gambling. Casino interests, he said, are hoping the federal government issues nationwide regulations for Internet gambling through legislation in Congress, ostensibly robbing local governments of gambling-related revenue.
"If we're not on the right side of the timing of that," he said, "we can't be grandfathered in.
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