THE PUBLIC GOT its first good look last week at the District’s plans to allow online gambling as part of the D.C. Lottery. As D.C. Council member Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6) aptly put it, there were “a whole lot more questions” than answers. Is the technology secure? (Working on it.) Will neighborhoods be affected? (Perhaps.) Will the games pass federal legal muster? (Unclear.) The only real conclusion to be drawn from the session was the need for the District to slow its rush to become the first place in the nation to offer betting games online.
Six months after legislation was surreptitiously passed to permit intranet betting, the council’s Finance and Revenue Committee heard testimony from officials involved in the planning. Demonstration games, in which no money will be involved, are set to start in late July, with a full rollout of the program slated for early September. Attorney General Irvin B. Nathan said the city should be all right legally if it’s able to restrict the games to within the city’s limits. Plans to use the government-owned DC-Net alarmed some council members, as did the idea of locating hot spots in hotels, bars and other public places throughout the city, partly as a way to entice out-of-towners to the games.
The seat-of-the-pants planning that surrounds this venture is evident in the failure of officials to realize that some residents might not welcome casino-like neighbors; or that the innocuously named “random number generated games” essentially amount, as The Post’s Michael Laris reported, to virtual slots — and are an awful lot like the video slots that the city shot down several years ago.
There was, as we have noted, no real discussion about the pros and cons of the District legalizing online gaming, thanks to the machinations of council member Michael A. Brown (I-At Large), who bypassed normal council review by including the measure in an omnibus budget bill. Mr. Brown continues to claim his actions were motivated by the urgent need to find revenue during the budget crisis, but the record shows that he had been working on the issue behind the scenes for months and that he was specifically advised that it was a bad idea to forgo a public hearing.
Mr. Brown is right, though, that other council members — including Finance and Revenue Chairman Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) — should have been paying closer attention to the last-minute additions to the supplemental budget. Mr. Evans persuaded lottery officials not to put hot spots in place until there is a system for community input. He also should consider whether the entire idea ought to be put on hold, at least until there are more answers than questions.