Later this week, D.C. Council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) will gavel to order a long-overdue hearing on online poker, which is soon to be legal inside the District under a provision slipped into a December budget bill.
The provenance of the poker legislation has been controversial. Earlier this month, a Post editorial raised questions about Michael A. Brown, the Council member (I-At Large) who sponsored the language while working for a law firm that has significant interests in the gambling arena.
Though there is no direct evidence linking Brown’s poker support to the bidding of the law firm — Edwards, Angell, Palmer Dodge, which Brown left earlier this year — the potential for a conflict renews questions about D.C. Council members who also hold outside jobs.
That applies, in the case, to Evans as well.
He is of counsel to Patton Boggs, the law and lobbying firm, which includes among its many powerful clients the Penn National Gaming Corp., a regional giant in the gambling industry. It owns numerous gambling properties on the east coast, including the casinos located closest to the District: the Hollywood Casinos in Charles Town, W.V.; Perryville, Md.; and Grantville, Pa.
Penn National is represented by Patton’s James A. Reeder, who once owned a portion of the Charles Town race track (along with the firm’s name partner, Thomas H. Boggs Jr.) before selling it to Penn National in 2000, according to an SEC filing.
With regard to Internet poker, Penn National might have some interest in preventing the D.C. government from creating a new option for gamblers in the Washington area — gamblers who would otherwise patronize Penn National’s casinos. More generally, Patton Boggs advertises its skill “in all aspects of representation for the hotel, gaming and leisure industry” and its “unparalleled experience in legislative and regulatory advocacy, sophisticated business and project management counsel, particular experience in Indian gaming issues.”
That said, any conflict is speculative. Reeder said today that he has “never discussed” online poker with Evans and was not aware that Penn National had a position on the District poker initiative.
And Evans said there is “no connection” between his decision to hold a hearing and his law firm. “I didn’t even know [Patton Boggs represented Penn National] until you just told me,” he said Monday.
He added that the online poker provision is now law, and changing it would require new legislation — which would require Evans to convince six of his colleagues to support.