Despite being accused by a former procurement officer of trying to improperly influence the D.C. Lottery contract, D.C. Council member Jack Evans soon will conduct oversight hearings on the approval process and a controversial online gambling proposal - while also being compelled to answer questions under oath in a civil lawsuit being defended by the city.
In addition, Mr. Evans does outside work for a law firm that has significant client interests in the gambling industry, raising further questions about whether he is the appropriate official to convene the lottery oversight hearings.
Mr. Evans’ role as the council’s lottery watchdog came into high relief this week when U.S. District Magistrate Judge Deborah A. Robinson ruled that he, council member Jim Graham, Ward 1 Democrat, and Mayor Vincent C. Gray must give depositions in a lawsuit by a former procurement officer who accuses them of trying to remove an ally of then-Mayor Adrian M. Fenty from the initial lottery contract.
“Can’t we just get rid of Williams?” asked Mr. Evans, Ward 2 Democrat, at an April 2008 meeting attended by D.C. Chief Financial Officer Natwar M. Gandhi and others, court documents state, in reference to Warren C. Williams Jr., the local partner of Greek gambling giant Intralot. Mr. Gray, then the council chairman, and his colleagues later scuttled that contract and a new one was rebid, resulting in a second agreement that was approved by the council but now is under investigation by the D.C. inspector general.
In conducting oversight hearings, Mr. Evans also has said his Finance and Revenue Committee will rely on a report by the inspector general, despite his and other officials’ concerns that the inspector general delayed the investigation for a year and is perceived as ineffective.
In a recent interview with The Washington Times, Mr. Evans insisted he has no undisclosed conflicts of interest and that accusations against him will have no bearing on his role as chairman of the oversight hearings.
He said the council is not set up to conduct investigations, forcing him to rely on the work of the inspector general, “even though he started last week,” Mr. Evans added with a chuckle, after news reports prompted him to light a fire under Inspector General Charles J. Willoughby, who allowed a request by city officials to languish for a year.
Yet he described the inspector general’s report as key to the oversight hearings, which have yet to be scheduled. Other components include a report from the public “listening sessions” being held around the city on the prospects of D.C. being the first in the country to legalize online poker and a bill by council member Tommy Wells, Ward 6 Democrat, to repeal online gambling, known as “igaming.”
Mr. Wells recently expressed confidence that Mr. Evans will provide appropriate oversight, but he acknowledged the possibility of recusal “in light of the lawsuit he may be deposed in.”
“He can do that if he chooses,” Mr. Wells added. “I don’t know if the committee process encompasses that.”
The issue of outside employment also seems to apply to Mr. Evans.
Earlier this year, The Washington Post raised questions about $200,000 in undisclosed income from a law firm with an active gambling practice received by council member Michael A. Brown, who introduced the online gambling initiative in December as part of a massive budget bill without any public debate. “His failure to disclose the association at the time is yet another troubling example of the secrecy that has surrounded the District’s decision to legalize and promote online poker,” The Post wrote in June.
In a similar vein, Mr. Evans works for Patton Boggs, a firm whose lawyers “are skilled in all aspects of representation for the hotel, gaming and leisure industry,” according to the law firm’s website.
A 2011 lobbying report shows Patton Boggs represents Penn National Gaming, which owns casinos in Maryland, West Virginia and Pennsylvania, and a racetrack in Ohio where D.C.’s lottery vendor, Intralot, is planning to install and service online gambling terminals.
Darryl Nirenberg, a Patton Boggs partner who advises Penn National, said, “Mr. Evans is in no way involved with this representation,” which he described as related to federal assistance for flood victims in lower Mississippi and the upper Midwest, where the company also has gambling interests.
Mr. Nirenberg also confirmed that he represents Las Vegas Sands Hotel and Casino, but said he had no reason to believe Mr. Evans would have known of such representation.
Just this week, however, Mr. Evans defended himself against similar concerns related to potential conflicts by stating that he disclosed such matters “out of an abundance of caution.”
Asked to describe the difference between Mr. Evans and Mr. Brown in terms of the need to disclose clients of firms for which they do work, numerous officials have been at a loss.
“No difference,” said one D.C. official who asked not to be quoted by name.
‘More robust disclosure’
“In general, I think we need to have more robust disclosure,” said council member Muriel Bowser, Ward 4 Democrat who chairs the Government Operations Committee, but who declined to directly comment on either Mr. Brown or Mr. Evans. “If members are going to have outside employment, we have to know not just who the employers are but who the clients are.”
Mr. Evans’ upcoming deposition and the accusations against him - in addition to his reliance on a report by the inspector general, whom he and other officials have criticized for being less than assertive in local oversight matters - are not the only questionable aspects of his oversight role.
Critics of online gambling have complained about a lack of notice of rescheduled community meetings that will be incorporated into Mr. Evans’ final committee report. Other scheduled “listening sessions” have resulted in less than robust turnout by residents.
Mr. Wells told The Times that he thinks churches in particular have been confused by the process if not the subject to be discussed.
“I don’t think they understand it’s gambling, and some ministers were surprised when I told them what igaming is all about,” he said. “Anyone can say that ‘Dungeons and Dragons’ is igaming, or Pong,” he added, in reference to the once-popular video games.
“Who would show up for a listening session on igaming if they announced it’s all about legalized gambling? It would be a different show.”