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Internet gambling rejected by D.C. Council panel

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A D.C. Council committee voted Wednesday to repeal the city’s Internet gambling program, sending the measure to a full council vote that could come as soon as next week.

“It gives [council members] an opportunity to vote up or down with full knowledge of what they’re voting for,” said panel Chairman Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), who voted to repeal.

The 3-2 vote of the Finance and Revenue Committee came after about a half-hour of discussion, during which member Michael A. Brown (I-At Large), who pushed for the Internet gambling provision, strongly defended the controversial process by which it became law and suggested that unnamed “casino interests” had helped to kill it.

“I believe that casinos have now reared their head in our city,” he said, referring to a conflict between gambling companies that want the federal government to legalize online wagering nationwide and lotteries that want to keep the programs on a state-by-state basis. If casinos have their way, Brown said, Internet gambling “will be federalized, and we won’t get any of the revenue.”

Asked which casinos he knows to be pressing local officials on the matter, Brown said: “I don’t know. I’m not sure.” Evans and other council members said they have had no contact with casino lobbyists and reiterated their criticism of the D.C. process.

Member David A. Catania (I-At Large) was sharply critical of the contracting deal that led Internet gambling to be added to the city’s lottery contract only after it passed through a 2009 council review.

“If we start making concessions to our laws, where does that end?” he said. “I suggest that’s a place we don’t want to be.”

Member Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4) acknowledged that city residents aren’t necessarily opposed to Internet gambling generally. “But it became clear they didn’t trust the process,” she said.

“I look forward to starting fresh with this discussion,” Bowser said.

The bill is expected to get an initial vote before the full council Tuesday. Nine of 12 members have told The Washington Post they will vote to repeal or are leaning toward doing so.

Should the council proceed with repeal, Brown said, the District would give up a “revenue bonanza” as states move forward with their own Internet gambling programs. “They’re laughing at our procedure now, that we’re going backwards,” he said.

But he said he is prepared to reintroduce his legislation should the repeal proceed. Member Marion Barry (D-Ward 8) joined Brown in voting against repeal.

Marie Drissel, a Kalorama activist who has led community opposition to the program, said she was delighted by the vote. “I feel like the Ferrari hit this brick wall at 200 mph,” she said.

Drissel said she could support an Internet gambling bill but one that included more curbs in the legislation, including monitoring and compliance standards, and additional consumer protections.

“We’re going to put the brick wall right back up if Michael Brown comes back with the same type of legislation,” she said.

debonism@washpost.com

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