D.C. Lottery will solicit public input on virtual gambling ‘hot spots’

June 30, 2011

It could be a long, sweaty summer for D.C. Lottery officials, but they are still hoping for a big payoff.

Facing a host of questions about plans for a government-backed virtual casino, the lottery chief said Thursday that he likely will postpone launching the bulk of the public “hot spots” envisioned for online betting.

The measure, which passed in December, had received little attention from legislators until this week, when a D.C. Council committee convened a hearing on the issue.

Since the hearing failed to allay some of the council’s concerns, the lottery agency wants to schedule community meetings around the city to solicit views from residents about online access points in businesses and government buildings.

“Their voices will be heard,” said the agency’s executive director, Buddy Roogow. “We have no interest in moving forward with locations that are against the greater interests of the community.”

Some of those voices have been less than welcoming over the past couple of days, as details of the gambling project have emerged.

“There will be absolutely no online gaming at the Dorothy Irene Height Library or ANY Ward 7 library!!” Council member Yvette M. Alexander (D-Ward 7) tweeted Wednesday.

A list of access points to the new betting Web site has not been released. But a network of Wi-Fi sites at public buildings and commercial establishments, such as hotels and clubs, was slated to be the backbone of the first-in-the-nation effort. That network is key for marketing and attracting tourists, visitors and other players, lottery officials have said.

How widespread community opposition may be remains unclear as many people have only begun to hear details of the city’s plans.

Roogow said dispelling misconceptions will be a key objective of the upcoming outreach effort.

“There’s an umbrella of misunderstanding that we’re setting up betting parlors, which we’re not,” Roogow said. “All we’re simply doing is providing an Internet connection for a specific location to offer Internet service, and on that internet service would be igamingdc.com.”

Roogow said some connections that would serve private homes, though more cumbersome to set up, will still go live as planned in early September.

But the public sites will take more time. How much time is unclear.

“Hot spots will not be approved until all input from the community has been received and evaluated. . . . We got direction from the council basically to do that,” Roogow said. “Can possibly some of that be accomplished before September 8th? Maybe for a few locations. It’s probably an uphill task.”

Roogow said officials are still working through the evaluation procedures, but will “take very serious note of objections by the community.”

Council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), who chaired the hearing earlier this week, said in a statement that he was pleased there will be a delay “until clear rules are in place that guarantee prior community input.”

Council member Michael A. Brown (I-At-Large), who pushed through the gambling legislation, said there is support for the virtual casino. Hospitality businesses hit hard by the weak economy, Brown said, “are aggressively calling the lottery” hoping for swift approval to offer access to online betting.

Mike Laris came to Post by way of Los Angeles and Beijing. He’s written about the world’s greatest holstein bull, earth’s biggest pork producer, home builders, the homeless, steel workers and Italian tumors.
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