D.C. Lottery officials do not plan to change the essential components of their controversial online gambling plan after holding nine community meetings to hear concerns and dispel myths about the program.
The lottery is using an audio recording of the meetings to form a summary for council member Jack Evans, Ward 2 Democrat, who is expected to schedule a hearing on the program — known as iGaming — alongside a bill to repeal the program altogether.
“I think the substantial majority of people who attended and spoke were supportive,” lottery Director Buddy Roogow said, acknowledging there was dissension about how revenue from iGaming should be used and some outright opposition to online gambling.
Mr. Evans is expected to schedule a hearing before his Committee on Finance and Revenue after he hears from the Office of the Inspector General, which is investigating the award of the D.C. Lottery contract and how online gambling was passed into law.
The program likely will not be vetted by city lawmakers until January, Mr. Evans said, noting it also is “hard during the holiday season to pull everybody together.”
The first-in-the-nation effort to bring online gambling to home computers and limited public areas within D.C. borders has received mixed reviews since it quietly got council approval within a supplemental budget bill last December.
Critics of the program inquired why council member Michael A. Brown, at-large independent, inserted authorization into the budget bill instead of drafting stand-alone legislation that would be subject to public hearings. Critics also have argued the program could lead to gambling addiction and that random number-generated games, included in the initial proposal, were digital versions of slot machines, a divisive form of gambling that was thwarted in the District in recent years.
Mr. Roogow said lottery officials decided during the summer to hold off on random-number-generated games and Victory at Sea and initially plan to introduce four games — poker, blackjack, bingo and E-scratch — to the public.
City officials involved in iGaming said they decided to start with familiar games and might roll out the additional two games in the future.
Mr. Evans said he is more concerned about the entire program and the precedent it sets for gambling in the District, rather than which games may be more harmful than others.
“It’s whether we want to do this or not,” he said.
Lottery officials say the program is legally sound, will be tightly monitored to avoid cheating or irresponsible play and caps losses at $250 per week among its participants, who must register and be approved to play.
Hoping to make its case and assuage fears, the D.C. Lottery held community meetings in each ward and a session for advisory neighborhood commissioners in October and November, ending with a Ward 6 meeting at Eastern Market on Nov. 21.
Council member Tommy Wells, Ward 6 Democrat, was the subject of strange backlash at the meeting for introducing a bill in September to repeal the iGaming law and “weigh the pros and cons in full daylight.”
About 10 people at the meeting wore yellow shirts that suggested he only represented the interests of a small percentage of city residents and that most residents want to see iGaming come to fruition, according to Mr. Wells.
“It was the first time that I’d seen an organized effort to prevent the repeal,” he said. “They had obviously been coached.”
Mr. Wells said it is unclear who funded the effort, although he was not surprised after seeing “a lot of money” put into the slots debate in prior years.
It is unclear whether Mr. Wells will gather enough votes on the council to repeal its own passage of iGaming into law. However, D.C. Council Chairman Kwame R. Brown has said he opposes all gambling.