The D.C. Council voted Tuesday to repeal the city’s controversial Internet gambling law, capping a year-long debate about whether it improperly snuck the concept past the public without proper vetting.
After supporters unsuccessfully mounted a last-minute effort to salvage the measure, the council voted 10-2 to end the city’s contract for I-Gaming and reverse the legislation that authorized the games.
“I want to make sure we get the best deal for the city,”said Council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), the sponsor of the repeal. “I believe it should be set up, so the city gets the best price and the best revenue.”
Internet gambling was quietly added to the city’s lottery contract as a “non-traditional games” option more than three months after the contract passed a 2009 council vote; it was later legalized through first-in-the-nation language added to a 2010 spending bill.
When the contract became entangled in a broader debate about how the council and Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) managed the city’s lottery contract, gambling opponents gained crucial momentum to repeal the law.
Before the vote, council member Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6) said some members were not aware of what they were voting on when they approved Internet gambling in 2010.
“They didn’t even use the word ‘Internet gambling,’” Wells said. ”They used word ‘I-gambling’...We voted as a city, and decided as a city, that we didn’t want slots....It has to go through a public process. This didn’t go through a public process, but it’s slots.”
Council member Michael A. Brown (I-At large), who pushed through the initial law, attempted Tuesday to salvage the concept. Brown was willing to scrap the city’s contract for I-Gaming with Intralot, which also operates the city, while preserving the underlying legislation that permits Internet gambling.
Brown noted it’s unclear whether the new Republican-controlled Congress, which did not block the 2010 law, would reauthorize Internet-gambling. Brown has also raised concerns that so-called “casino interests” are trying to federalize the Internet gambling in the District.
“This was going to be our thing, our laws, governed by us,” Brown said. “We were going to reap the benefits from tourist, from residents.”
The repeal, which Gray supports, will cost the city an estimated $13.1 million in revenue through September 2015. City officials are working to identify new revenue or spending cuts to account for the change.
While city taxpayers have yet to spend a dime on developing the program, its lottery contractor, Intralot, has spent more than $5 million preparing an iGaming system. It’s possible the company could sue to recoup its costs.
Council member Marion Barry (D-Ward 8), the only member to vote with Brown, derided his colleagues who suggested they did not know what Internet gambling was when the council approved it.
“What kind of legislature are you?” Barry asked. “You giving the public the impression, you didn't know what you voted for. This council already has a low approval rating... and you are telling me, you didn’t know you voted on something?”
But several members, including Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3) and Wells, said they would prefer to start the debate from scratch about whether the city should legalize Internet gambling.
“I believe there is a place we can try this,” Cheh said. “ I just think it can be controlled.”
Staff writer Mike DeBonis contributed to this report.