CONTROVERSY MAY have forced the District to delay the launch of online gaming, but its advocates haven’t given up. The lottery operator is running help-wanted ads for a Bingo Chat Moderator and other employees who would be needed if the District is to become the nation’s first jurisdiction to legalize these games of chance, and D.C. Council members say they are under pressure not to reverse course.
Reversing course, though, is exactly what needs to happen. Council member Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6) should succeed in his effort to repeal the legislation permitting this dubious effort.
D.C. lottery officials had hoped to offer online casino games such as Poker, Bingo and Fantasy Sports for fun in July, followed by money wagering in September. But concern about how the operation was authorized (surreptitiously slipped into an end-of-the-year budget) and revelations that its sponsor, council member Michael A. Brown (I-At Large), had been in the employ of a firm with an interest in the issue (he denies any conflict), caused officials to put on the brakes. No launch date has been set. A spokesman for Intralot, the Greek firm that runs the D.C. lottery, said it’s only prudent to start looking for people to fill the positions but that the city will have the final say about whether to proceed.
The council’s Finance and Revenue Committee, bypassed when the measure passed the council last year, held a public hearing in June and its chair, council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), insisted that community meetings be held to gauge public views on the issue. The meetings had been set to take place in mid-August until there was an outcry over doing so when many people are on vacation. We’re glad the council finally woke up to some of the implications of this issue and have started to ask questions. But the process has been so tainted — no public vetting, some council members having no idea what they were voting on, Mr. Brown’s questionable involvement — that the council should start over. “This is too big a thing to do by sleight of hand,” said Mr. Wells.
Maybe, as supporters claim, online gaming can help cash-strapped governments raise money and revitalize lottery operations. But states that have investigated such ventures have backed off because of technical challenges and worries about compliance with federal law. The manner in which the District has proceeded gives rise to doubts about what games are really being played.