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Washington, D.C. Repeals Online Law

Washington, D.C.  Repeals Online Law

Washington, D.C. has missed its chance to become the first U.S. jurisdiction to offer online gaming.

Last month, the district’s city council voted 10-2 to repeal the internet gambling legislation that was passed in 2010 as part of a budget bill. Concerns that the measure was passed without proper public vetting, as well as council members’ uncertainty over the content of the bill, prompted the repeal.

Also at issue was an “i-gaming” clause that was added to the city’s lottery contract and passed a 2009 council vote. The quiet manipulation of Intralot, the company that runs D.C.’s Lottery platform, gave it the authority to run the new online program without input from the council or a proper bidding process. The majority of council members, as well as Mayor Vincent C. Gray, believed more public transparency was needed.

“We need to start the process over again to restore public confidence,” said Councilman Jack Evans. “I want to make sure we get the best deal for the city. I believe it should be set up so the city gets the best price and the best revenue.”

The repeal decision comes after a year of controversy over the i-gaming program. As envisioned by council member Michael Brown, the bill’s chief sponsor, the program would offer poker, blackjack and other online table games through the D.C. Lottery, restricted to residents and visitors within city limits. Concern over the location of gambling “hot spots” led to a series of ward meetings to allow the public to weigh in on the matter. After the lottery contract clause came to light, a report on the origins of the legislation was drawn up by the district’s inspector general, which roundly criticized D.C.’s Chief Financial Officer Natwar Gandhi. Several council members called for his resignation.

Finally, the council decided on a straight vote, and the online gaming program was repealed.

Brown said he thought the council’s decision was “throwing the baby out with the bathwater.”

It was a sentiment echoed by Councilman Marion Barry, the only other member who voted to continue the program. Barry had pushed for the acceleration of i-gaming, and was convinced that the public meetings showed general support for online games. Barry, once the controversial mayor of D.C., took his fellow council members to task over the issue. Evans said there were not enough people at the meetings to obtain an accurate polling sample.