The Washington Post

In muted defense of Michael Brown’s approach to Internet gambling

Brown’s Congress-eschewing approach to iGaming backfired. (BILL O'LEARY/THE WASHINGTON POST)

There is no evidence I’ve seen that, as Brown has recently suggested, “external interests” have played a role in turning back iGaming. The repeal, as has been well established, is rooted in the shadowy process used to implement “iGaming” — a contract option quietly invoked only after the council okayed the lottery deal; authorizing legislation added to a supplemental budget bill rather than passing through the normal course.

Brown has hamfistedly insisted for months that he did nothing wrong by inserting the iGaming language in the budget bill — hamfisted, because while the maneuver was legally proper, the whole process has struck most other observers as needlessly suspect, planting the seeds of repeal that are now in full bloom.

But in Brown’s defense, there is a somewhat legitimate reason why he did things the way he did — not that he’s explained it in any coherent manner.

Brown was and is rightly concerned that should the council pass a standalone bill, it would get bogged down in Congress, where armies of casino lobbyists — the “outside interests” he mentioned — are working to keep online gambling out of government hands.

Brown believed it then — though he never admitted it in any direct way — and he believes it now. As he said on WAMU-FM last week, “once I re-introduce this ... it’ll never get past Congress again.”

Not only was the original iGaming language’s path through Congress eased by the fact that it was buried in a December 2010 budget bill, but it also was sent to Congress during a particular moment when it wasn’t going to get lawmakers’ full attention — less than a month after Republicans seized control of the House, with leadership and committee staffs greatly in flux.

That said, Brown didn’t make the case then and he’s barely making the case now that he did what he did to avoid Congress and do what’s right for the city. And it’s a particularly tricky position to be in for Brown — who, more than anyone on the council, asserts moral leadership on achieving “self-determination” for District residents.

In other words, he might have a case for avoiding the full scrutiny of Congress, but he doesn’t have much of a case for escaping the full scrutiny of D.C. residents, who have a right to determine for themselves whether their government should be in the Internet gambling business.

Mike DeBonis covers Congress and national politics for The Washington Post. He previously covered D.C. politics and government from 2007 to 2015.


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