The D.C. Council’s support for a lucrative deal to manage the District’s sports betting and lottery appeared shaky ahead of a Tuesday vote on whether to award the sole-source contract to Greek gaming company Intralot.
Seven of the 13 council members expressed a range of concerns and said they would not approve the $215 million proposal in its current form. But at least two, Vincent C. Gray (D-Ward 7) and Robert C. White Jr. (D-At Large), left open the possibility of voting for an amended bill.
Gray, who has long called for the sports betting revenue to go toward violence prevention and early-childhood education, has said he could support the contract if those provisions are established. He did not respond to a request for comment Monday.
White said he hadn’t made a final decision but was leaning against the contract, which has become mired in an ethics scandal involving its chief champion, council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2).
“Honestly, it’s hard for me to imagine that I could find a strong enough justification for a sole-source contract at this point,” White said.
Just weeks ago, the contract appeared headed for passage. But now five council members — David Grosso (I-At Large), Brianne K. Nadeau (D-Ward 1), Elissa Silverman (I-At Large), Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3) and Charles Allen (D-Ward 6) — have said they plan to vote it down.
“I think it stinks,” said Allen, who initially supported the contract.
Cheh distributed a memo last week urging her colleagues to join her in opposition, saying the foundations for her initial support had crumbled. She said she no longer accepted the argument that the District needed to act quickly to beat Virginia and Maryland to the gaming market, considering that neither neighboring state has yet to legalize sports betting.
Cheh also noted that the city’s initial revenue projections now appear overestimated and that she read “almost in horror” a report by The Washington Post showing that the majority of the contract would go to politically connected local companies without extensive records in the sports betting industry.
“It’s a little much, really,” she said. “Let’s start over.”
The council also is scheduled to vote Tuesday on whether Evans should be removed as chairman of the Committee on Finance and Revenue and whether to hire an outside law firm to investigate him.
In a statement released Monday, Evans said that he has “enormous respect for the Council of the District of Columbia, and I know that each Councilmember is acting out of a sincere appreciation for her or his responsibility, and that is how it should be. I understand my responsibility as an elected official in accepting the review that has been occurring and decisions being made, although with sadness and with humility.”
He also said that he would “constantly work to reaffirm that I understand the high calling of being an elected official and that I will devote my time on the council to the redemptive challenge of their good will.”
Evans, a fixture of city politics since his 1991 election and an ally to the business community for decades, has been under scrutiny for his private consulting work for several prominent companies with interests before the D.C. government.
Since the fall, a federal grand jury has issued several subpoenas to governmental bodies seeking documents about Evans and his clients.
The FBI recently searched his home, and Evans resigned from the Metro board last month after The Post reported that an investigation had found evidence that he committed ethics violations at the transit agency, where he had served as chairman.
The transit agency’s ethics committee concluded that Evans had failed to disclose a conflict of interest.
Grosso on Monday became the first council member to say Evans should resign from the council, pointing to a report Sunday by The Post that a lobbyist connected to Intralot, William “Billy” Jarvis, had also represented Evans’s firm, NSE Consulting, in negotiations with private employers.
Evans last week assured his council colleagues that Jarvis was only involved in registering NSE as a business and received no compensation for acting as NSE’s registered agent.
“It is no longer possible to trust anything that Councilmember Evans has told us since this ordeal began,” Grosso wrote in a statement. “ . . . Especially troubling is his rush to legalize sports wagering and to sole-source the contract to ensure his business partner’s client remains the incumbent vendor. The relationship between Councilmember Evans and Intralot’s lobbyist Bill Jarvis only reinforces my view that we should disapprove the proposed $215 million lottery and sports wagering contract, decouple the two issues, and open both to competition.”
Grosso said the council needs to immediately create an ad hoc committee to oversee an investigation into Evans.
“Rather than investigating these allegations at the first hint of wrongdoing, it has taken the work of the press to bring Council Member Evans’ conflicts and dishonesty to light,” Grosso said in a statement. He wrote that Evans should be removed from all committees — not just lose his finance chairmanship — pending such an investigation. And he said he will call on Evans to recuse himself from Tuesday’s vote on the sports betting contract, based on a potential conflict of interest posed by his business connection to Jarvis.
Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D), who supports the sports betting contract, told reporters Monday that he saw no reason for Evans to recuse himself from the contract vote.
“One is required to recuse himself when there is a direct and predictable gain of value, typically money,” Mendelson said. He said that’s not the case “based on the information that I know.”
The chairman also said he did not think an ad hoc committee to investigate Evans should be created until September, by which time lawyers hired by the council would have completed their probe of Evans.
Mendelson said disapproving the contract will just invite more lobbying. “I can assure you that if we reject the contract and go to a competitive bid, the winning bidder and the losing bidders will all have their subs down here telling us why we should vote for or against that,” he said.
Council members Evans, Trayon White Sr. (D-Ward 8), Kenyan R. McDuffie (D-Ward 5) and Brandon T. Todd (D-Ward 4) did not immediately return requests for comment. A spokesman for Anita Bonds (D-At Large) declined to answer questions about how she planned to vote.