- The Washington Times - Monday, July 18, 2011

The D.C. Lottery is tapping the brakes on every aspect of its unprecedented Internet gambling plans, even though city residents wouldn’t have lost a dime by playing demo games initially slated to roll out this week.

After a public hearing made it plain that more input is needed before the District offers i-Gaming in homes and public hot spots, the lottery postponed its plans. Demos intended to allow players to try the games before wagering money are on hold as well, in a turnabout from the scheduled launch of Blackjack and Victory at Sea in late July and four more games in August.

The lottery will use the expanded grace period to meet face to face with community leaders and hear their concerns about that first-in-the-nation plan to generate revenue through sanctioned online gambling.

“We want to have the community meetings, and have them see the larger view of what we’re doing,” D.C. Lottery Executive Director Buddy Roogow said.

Mr. Roogow said he still would like a phase-in period and that the implementation freeze will allow them to create “a more complete demo site.”

Lottery officials have not committed to a new launch period, yet face the conflicting pressures of assuring the public of the benefits of their online gambling program while risking losing ground on gambling revenues that were calculated into the fiscal year 2012 budget, which begins Oct. 1.

The District’s i-Gaming plans became law in December, when council member Michael A. Brown, at-large independent, put the measure in a supplemental budget bill. He has defended the measure as a way to generate revenue while regulating a hobby that goes unchecked through offshore gambling sites.

Despite fears of federal interference through legislative riders - a common fret among D.C. social policy initiatives such as medical marijuana, publicly funded abortions and needle-exchange programs - Congress did not object to the District’s efforts during its 30-day review period of the local law.

D.C. Attorney General Irvin B. Nathan deemed i-Gaming legal so long as play stays within D.C. borders, and objections to the program appear to be emanating from the District’s own residents, rather than from Capitol Hill.

Council member Jack Evans, Ward 2 Democrat, said more public input is necessary before implementation of i-Gaming, after a June 29 hearing before his Committee on Finance and Revenue revealed widespread concerns about how the program passed the council and how it will be implemented in coming months.

Players must be at least 19 years old and register on the lottery’s secure site before wagering money.

Each player can lose a maximum of $250 per week, but there is no way to calculate how much someone can win on a lucky streak, lottery officials say.

Besides play on home computers, hot spots will offer a Wi-Fi signal within a designated area that allows secure access to i-Gaming.

The lottery is identifying locations in each ward of the city to hear from Advisory Neighborhood Commissions and other residents about online gaming in public hot spots - known in D.C. Lottery parlance as “trusted sites” - and to dispel the myth that they are setting up gambling parlors or changing the aesthetics of buildings and communities, Mr. Roogow said.

The hot spots were a key point of contention at the public hearing and in online forums, with some fearing the use of library connections and government buildings for online gambling.

Lottery officials have said they envision the service in places such as hotels, taverns or cafes, and most employers have filtering software to ensure employees do not play on the job.

“We want to hear from the community,” Mr. Roogow said. “We want to hear what their concerns are.”

• Tom Howell Jr. can be reached at thowell@washingtontimes.com.

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