02/01/2012 : WEDNESDAY IS CRUNCH DAY FOR WASHINGTON DC ONLINE GAMBLING
Finance and Revenue Committee membership could vote to progress a repeal of legalization law
Issues surrounding alleged contract award irregularities have spilled over onto the controversial legalization of online gambling thirteen months ago in Washington DC as politicians re-examine the events leading up to the legalization approval attached to a supplementary budget measure.
Chief opponent of the legalization is the chairman of the city's Finance and Revenue committee, Councillor Jack Evans, who has led a campaign against the manner in which the measure was introduced and the lack of prior public consultation, in addition to concerns regarding lottery contract amendments which appear to have spilled over onto the internet gambling issue.
The next hearing called by Evans is scheduled for today (Wednesday 1 February) when his finely balanced committee will decide whether to progress attempts to repeal the legalization act.
The Associated Press news agency observes that the strong backlash on the D.C. Council to the district's online gambling program has little to do with moral opposition to gambling. Instead, council members are upset with the way it became law, saying they didn't realise they had voted to approve it.
Evans told the Associated Press on Tuesday that he plans to move the repeal bill out of his finance and revenue committee, and would personally vote for the repeal when it goes before the full council.
The Democratic Party politician said neither the council nor the public was given enough opportunity to comment on the program before it became law, and he is concerned by a report from the district's Inspector General that raised questions about changes to the district's contract with its lottery vendor Intralot that paved the way for online gambling.
"We just need to start over," he said, but noted that he had no plans to introduce a bill to do this.
Evans claims that internet gambling became law outside the normal legislative process, starting with an approval by the council of Intralot's $39 million contract in 2009. At that stage the contract did not specify that Intralot would be able to bring online gambling to the district, including only language about "nontraditional games."
However, the contract was subsequently amended by the council’s chief financial officer – allegedly without council authority – to specifically mention the provision of internet games, clearing the way in late 2010 for Councillor Michael A. Brown to tack his legalization bill onto a supplemental budget bill which was approved, making Washington DC the first ‘state' to legalise the pastime after Congress failed to react to the council's approval.
Since then, some councillors have expressed concerns that the tactics used in getting the legalization bill through meant that they were not aware that they were signing online gambling into law.
In addition to Evans, committee members Councillors David Catania and Muriel Bowser have indicated that they will vote for the repeal measure to progress. Two other committee members, Brown and Marion Barry, will vote against the repeal, according to local reports.
Other councillors on the committee have yet to indicate how they will vote, but local media predicts that at least three other members of the 12-person council will support repeal: Jim Graham, Phil Mendelson and Tommy Wells, who introduced the repeal bill. Councillor Kwame Brown has not taken a position, but is on record as saying on numerous occasions that he opposes all gambling.
Adding impetus to Evans' opposition moves was a report Tuesday that indicated an about-turn by a former supporter of the legalization bill, Mayor Vincent Gray. His spokesman told media this week that Gray now wants to see online gambling repealed.
"It's become such a divisive issue. It's not critical to the fiscal needs of the city," the spokesman said. "It's just better to stop this, take a few steps back, take a deep breath and figure out where to go from here."
The legalization act's introducer and staunch supporter, Councillor Michael Brown, said he would continue to try to convince his colleagues of the merits of internet gaming, but admitted he was “obviously disappointed” at the dwindling support for the program.