A D.C. COUNCIL committee is set to vote Wednesday on whether to allow online gaming in the District. It should be an easy vote — and not because the pros or cons of such gambling are obvious. The issue here is a process so corrupted that, regardless of whether wagering makes sense, the council would be wrong to proceed with the current proposal.
The council approved online gaming in two suspect steps: including it as part of a larger lottery contract in 2009, and then lifting the legal prohibitions against it in 2010. It did so without a public hearing, without allowing competing companies to bid on the business and without any kind of reasonable discussion. “It was not done the right way,” council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) told us Monday, correctly but with some understatement. Mr. Evans, the chairman of the council’s Finance and Revenue Committee, said he will vote to repeal the measure.
His decision follows the release of a critical report by Inspector General Charles J. Willoughby and a hearing that saw withering questioning by council members of Chief Financial Officer Natwar M. Gandhi and his deputies. Mr. Gandhi was faulted for including provisions in the 2009 contract that allowed online gambling without alerting the council or allowing other companies to bid on the proposal.
“The council never really knew what it was voting on,” Mr. Evans said of the contract with Greek lottery vendor Intralot that contained a blank page. As council member David A. Catania (I-At Large), another member of the finance committee, effectively argued at last week’s hearing, this deprived the D.C. Council of its right to make a choice, deprived competitors of a fair chance to compete and may have deprived the city of the best possible deal.
Instead of following normal legislative process, council member Michael A. Brown (I-At Large) included a measure to legalize the gambling in a 2010 budget supplement amendment. We’ve been writing about this for some time, and Mr. Brown has yet to offer a satisfactory explanation of why he didn’t follow normal order. What the inspector general confirmed is that Mr. Brown’s outside employer at the time represented gaming interests — information which Mr. Brown neglected to share with the public or his council colleagues.
Council member Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4), who also sits on the five-member finance committee, told us Monday that she too will vote for repeal. Ms. Bowser, who authored recently enacted legislation strengthening government ethics, said she isn’t sure yet what the right policy is for Washington on online gaming. But the process was so flawed, she said, “We just have to start all over.”