- The Washington Times - Monday, June 27, 2011

The D.C. Lottery announced roll-out dates for its unprecedented Internet gambling program, kicking it off with two demonstration games in midsummer before players wager real cash in September.

The lottery will debut Blackjack and Victory at Sea in late July and release four more games - Bingo, poker, E-Scratch Offs and random number games - by Aug. 20, so players can get accustomed to the games before risking the contents of their wallets.

The program, known as iGaming, allows players to log onto a secure site from their home computer or a “platinum sponsor” vendor at hotels and other select areas.

According to published D.C. rules, all players must be in the District and be at least 19 years old. The base age keeps out high schoolers but takes advantage of the college market, according to D.C. Council member Michael A. Brown, at-large independent, who introduced the measure.

Once approved, gamers will face a mixed bag of competition.

E-Scratch Offs are similar to traditional scratch cards, with a cursor taking the place of a coin. But offerings like Blackjack and random number games should feature interplay with the computer, while Bingo, poker and Victory at Sea have a multiplayer component, said Buddy Roogow, executive director of the D.C. Lottery.

Mr. Roogow said the lottery is still hammering out ways to prevent collusion among players - for example a pair of players who divulge their Texas hold’em hands over the phone without the knowledge of a third man at the online table.

But, Mr. Roogow noted, they will not be offering high-stakes games.

“Part of the answer is that we are not talking about a site for professional gamers,” he said.

Mr. Roogow said additional details will be worked out between now and September, and some security methods will remain confidential.

Meanwhile, the council’s Committee on Finance and Revenue will hold a hearing Wednesday to vet the legal ramifications of the District’s nascent program, which the council quietly approved within a larger budget bill in December.

Mr. Roogow, D.C. Chief Financial Officer Natwar M. Gandhi and D.C. Attorney General Irvin B. Nathan are expected to appear on behalf of the government. A citizens group that opposes the measure is listed among public witnesses.

Committee Chairman Jack Evans, Ward 2 Democrat, said the hearing will explore how the games will work and why no one else in the country has introduced state-sanctioned gambling on the Internet.

Mr. Roogow noted there is precedent for intrajurisdiction gaming in Canada, namely games offered by the British Columbia Lottery Corp. However, D.C. games will offer lower stakes than the West Coast province, Mr. Roogow said.

Congress did not object to the District’s efforts during its 30-day review period of the law, although the legality of Internet gambling is still unclear and the federal government could still intervene.

Congress has final approval over D.C. laws and in the past has attempted to influence social policy by placing “riders” on city budget bills that prohibit spending on programs unpopular with federal lawmakers. The most recent budget bill cleared a House committee Thursday without any such riders prohibiting online gambling.

A pending House bill would legalize Internet gambling, but it exempts state and tribal lotteries from its purview.

Legislators, including Mr. Brown for the District, argue that the legalization of online gambling is a win-win that can generate millions in public revenue while regulating a hobby that goes unchecked on the Internet.

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

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