- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 16, 2011

D.C. officials are optimistic about reaching their first-year revenue goal of roughly $2.2 million for an online gambling program, despite delays caused by concerns and opposition.

“It doesn’t mean anything for [fiscal 2012] as long as it gets implemented before too long,” said D.C. Council member Michael Brown, at-large independent, who put the accompanying legislation in a budget bill in December. “We know these numbers are conservative, anyway.”

The first-in-the-nation iGaming program was supposed to go live by early September, but public outcry over how the bill was passed has resulted in delays that will extend past the start of the fiscal year on Oct. 1.

Some are concerned with where the D.C. Lottery will place restricted Internet connections — known as “trusted sites” — across the city.

Lottery officials plan to allow people registered within city limits to wager money on games such as poker and blackjack in their homes or on personal laptop computers at trusted sites such as hotels, mainly so visitors to the city also can play.

Critics are raising concerns about the level of transparency in how the bill was passed and about the risk of gambling addiction among vulnerable residents.

Council member Tommy Wells, Ward 6 Democrat, plans to introduce legislation to repeal iGaming when the council reconvenes in mid-September.

D.C. Chief Financial Officer Natwar M. Gandhi projected that the program could generate $2.2 million in revenue during fiscal 2012 and $8.9 million a year by 2015.

Mr. Brown pitched the program as a way to generate funds for the city while regulating a hobby that goes unchecked on offshore websites.

He said the city may catch up to projected revenue if the program survives public scrutiny, despite implementation delays.

David Umansky, a spokesman for the city’s chief financial officer, said there is a “fair amount of confidence” of reaching revenue goals if the program is implemented in due time.

D.C. Lottery initially planned to roll out iGaming on or around Sept. 8, but a public hearing in June highlighted the need for additional public input.

Lottery officials scheduled public meetings for August and early September, then postponed them because of complaints that key decision-makers would be on vacation.

The new dates should be set by the end of the month, lottery officials said.

Mr. Brown said the decision to project no revenue for fiscal 2011, which will end before public input meetings are completed, is “extremely responsible.”

Buddy Roogow, executive director of D.C. Lottery, said Monday that community input is more crucial than revenue at this point.

“We want to have a community that understands what the program is,” he said. “It’s the most important thing.”

Mr. Roogow said he hopes other programs, such as new sports-themed scratch-off tickets and sales from the Lucky Lottery Mobile, will make up for lost revenue.

He also said the community meetings will allow lottery officials to give a presentation explaining iGaming and dispelling myths about its impact on communities, such as the notion that it could lead to bricks-and-mortar gambling parlors.

Supporters contend that iGaming is needed to compete with nearby attractions, including a casino project under construction at Arundel Mills in Hanover, Md., and a successful casino at Charles Town, W.Va.

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