Many of the most pointed inquiries centered on which public settings and commercial establishments could become gathering places for online poker, blackjack and bingo.
D.C. Lottery officials had said in recent days that they would rely on a network of hundreds of WiFi hot spots in government buildings and commercial establishments to launch online betting across the city in September. But in response to calls Wednesday for a possible delay, lottery officials reversed course, saying they might focus first on allowing that betting in private homes.
A key question — whether the District’s law allowing online betting violates federal gambling restrictions — remains unanswered. D.C. Attorney General Irvin B. Nathan testified that the city’s efforts are legal, so long as the technology being put in place ensures that all gambling activities stay within city limits. Federal law restricts interstate financial transactions related to gambling.
Council members said they were reassured by Nathan’s position.
Nathan said the District had submitted the new law and the city’s plans for implementing it to the Justice Department, which enforces federal anti-gambling laws. Nathan said the agency has yet to respond to the city. “Obviously, we’d be interested in their views. They have the matter under advisement,” Nathan said. A Justice Department spokeswoman declined to comment on the D.C. law.
Council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), finance committee chairman, convened Wednesday’s hearing six months after the council passed the online gambling legislation without the typical public vetting process.
Member Michael A. Brown (I-At-Large), whose role in pushing the legislation has come under scrutiny, repeated his assertion that the expedited process reflected his urgency to find revenue for the needy and to protect growing numbers of online gamblers.
Evans said he still did not understand why the gambling proposal was not introduced on its own. The measure was part a budget amendment and received little attention.
The hearing did bring additional clarity to some of the government and gambling lingo city officials included in plans made available for public comment. One document, for example, made reference to “random number generated games,” yet attracted little attention. But in a revealing exchange with Wells, the executive director of the D.C. Lottery said that the city will allow what amount to virtual slots.
“Do you expect to be offering slot machines?” Wells asked.
“Yes,” responded Buddy Roogow, lottery chief. But a moment later, Roogow added: “They do not meet the legal definition of slot machines. They are, in fact, random-number-generated machines.”