A member of Congress said he is continuing his inquiry into the District’s plan to award a sole-source contract for online sports gambling, contradicting the city’s representative in the House.
Rep. William Lacy Clay (D-Mo.) sent a letter to D.C. officials last week, saying he was concerned by the city’s decision to suspend procurement rules and award a sports betting contract to Intralot after the Greek company’s recent financial troubles. He also asked a series of questions of the District’s chief financial officer.
D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D), who opposes congressional interference in local affairs, said last Friday that she spoke with Clay and believed he was backing off.
After his office left her statements unchallenged for several days, Clay told The Washington Post that Norton was wrong.
“No other member of Congress has a right to speak for a member. And I am still awaiting my response,” said Clay in a Tuesday interview off the House floor.
That came as news to Norton, who said she confronted Clay about the matter on Friday.
“I joked around with him and said that this is a violation of home rule. I don’t even know what this contract is about and I don’t care. It’s a D.C. matter, and it’s no business of Congress,” Norton said in a phone interview. “It was pretty clear that he understood what I was saying, and he did not insist that he was entitled to this information.”
Clay had a different interpretation.
“Well, she talked about ‘how dare I ask as a Democratic member of Congress.’ Well no, I have a right to ask. That’s why I am pursuing it,” said Clay, who sits on the House Oversight and Reform Committee with jurisdiction over District affairs.
Clay says he reiterated his demand for a response to his letter on Tuesday. Norton said her staff told the finance agency to ignore the letter.
A spokesman for the Office of the Chief Financial Officer did not return a request for comment.
The sparring in Congress is the latest in a contentious fight to fast-track sports gambling in the nation’s capital.
The D.C. Council legalized the practice late last year and gave the city a monopoly over mobile betting, which is expected to be the most popular way to place a wager. Local lawmakers last week gave final approval to grant Intralot, which runs the city’s lottery, a sole-source contract to also manage the new venture into mobile betting.
Supporters said the traditional procurement process of competitive bidding would have delayed the launch of sports betting and hurt the city’s efforts to establish a foothold in the Washington region before Virginia and Maryland. Critics say the urgency has not been demonstrated and that competitive bids provide the best value for taxpayers.
While Congress retains veto power over the District’s laws and spending under the 1973 Home Rule Act, Democrats on Capitol Hill generally take a hands-off approach.
“The District does not have to respond to random members of Congress,” Norton said. “I can’t think of when I had to apply this rule to Democrats. Usually I am having to talk about Republicans who are serial offenders.”
Norton said she suspected that someone else with an interest in the sports gambling industry asked Clay to write the letter.
Clay said he chose to get involved because of an interest in the regulation of gaming.
“I’m interested in online gaming because I intend on introducing legislation, so it kind of raised a red flag for me to see how they were rushing this under the guise that they’re trying to beat Virginia and Maryland,” Clay said.
“It just struck me as peculiar that you would have this sort of rush without doing the due diligence, without allowing for a bidding process.”